Feb. 6, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
The greater surprise should not be about the whistle that did not blow late Tuesday night in McCamish Pavilion when Florida State sniper Michael Snaer got to the basket after sending Tech’s Mfon Udofia to the floor with a stealth forearm shiver/clear-out.
Rather, the alert should have been triggered by the alarming ease with which Florida State kept snaking to the basket before that.
Snaer’s point-blank, buzzer-beating score was the last of many of its kind even though the Jackets knew the scouting report: he entered with four buzzer-beating game winners in the last 13 months.
You can fret about that play if you want, but how often, after all, do the zebras fall asleep late in close games? Frequently.
The foundation of Florida State’s 56-54 win was built on the fact that the Seminoles got up close too often. Eight of FSU’s 10 second-half baskets were layups or dunks. The other two were 3-pointers.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton has a deep bag of tricks, and he kept reaching in and grabbing until . . . he pulled out a high ball screen in the middle of the floor which the Jackets could not figure out.
The ‘Noles went Ivy League, and the Jackets (12-9, 2-7) – smart as they are – couldn’t quite figure out the visitors’ Princeton-like approach.
“Bottom-line, simply put, they deserved to win that game more than we did,” Gregory said. “Especially in the second half . . . we had some guys just fell asleep on the backside.”
Each team played four freshmen, but Tech did not fall to neophytes.
Three of FSU’s first-year collegians attended prep schools, two as post graduates. The third – 7-foot-3 reserve center Boris Bojanovsky – went from his home town in the Slovak Republic to Spain for three years at the Oakley School.
That’s a prep school in Spain that highlights athletics.
The Jackets’ emerging resiliency was nonetheless on fully display as they rallied from a 13-0 deficit to take a 27-26 lead on Daniel Miller’s dunk shortly before the first-half buzzer. Tech expanded the lead to 31-26 with the first couple buckets of the second half.
The gears kept turning in Hamilton’s head, however, and finally they stopped slipping.
As the Jackets stormed back in the first half, largely on three 3-pointers made by Brandon Reed off the bench, they kept forcing Florida State to turn the ball over in the corners, on the baseline, near the sidelines.
So in the second half, Hamilton pushed his ballhandler to the middle of the floor, and spread the rest of the ‘Noles and had them screen like mad for each other.
Time and again, a ‘Nole worked free in the paint for a point-blank shot. Bojanovsky scored eight of his career-high 10 points in the second half in a span of seven possessions.
“They were doing a very good job defending our schemes,” Hamilton said. “We just kept trying different things . . . and once we spread the floor a little bit, it gave us an opportunity to get some easier baskets.”
In the second half, FSU’s score list went: layup, two free throws, dunk, dunk, layup, layup, 3-pointer, layup, layup, two free throws, 3-pointer, two free throws, two free throws, layup.
“You can look at a lot of different things, but our coverage on that [high screen-and-roll] probably cost us the game,” Gregory said.
Looking at other things: Tech was out-rebounded 30-24, and didn’t grab an offensive rebound for the first 17-plus minutes despite missing a slew of shots.
Also, Tech’s starters played a combined 150 of the 200 minutes, or 75 percent, yet scored just 61.1 percent of the points (33) on 32.4 percent shooting.
The bench players, chiefly Kam Holsey (six points) and Reed (nine), combined to shoot 53.8 percent while scoring 38.9 percent of the Jackets points. They were also accountable for four of Tech’s seven made 3-pointers.
The subs’ numbers dropped off in the second half, when they scored seven points relative to 14 in the first, but so did their playing time (19 minutes to 31).
Starters were on the floor, looking a big bit tired, when the game was decided.
Udofia’s game-tying 3-pointer – which came after freshman Chris Bolden dug a ball out of a scrum on the floor and whipped it to the team’s lone senior atop the trey arc – banked off glass with 1:02 left.
An FSU turnover gave the Jackets the ball back, and Udofia hoisted another long ball early in the shot clock: “coach called a play, and I had a good look,” he said.
That missed, FSU rebounded, and called timeout.
At the end, Snaer had the ball up top. Udofia checked him, and at least a couple times put his left hand on Snaer’s right shoulder.
Hamilton had told his troops he wanted a shot at the rim, or a trip to the free throw line. So FSU’s preseason All-America player drove.
As he launched, he used his left forearm to push Udofia. Mfon tumbled back, and slid on his rump for a few feet.
“Mfon just slipped,” Hamilton said. “There was some contact. That’s just the nature of the game. I thought he slipped . . . If we’re going to start talking about fouls, we can go back on the whole game and get the film out and I think you’ll probably see at the end of the game it probably evens itself out.”
In an odd set of circumstances, Hamilton explained this with Udofia and Miller sitting in the back of the room, waiting their turn at the microphone.
Some 30 minutes after Udofia had scrambled up and tried to stick and hand in without fouling as Snaer drove with no more than semi-control to the basket, Tech’s senior said, “I didn’t trip at all. I thought he pushed off. The ref had a chance to make a call, and he didn’t make it so . . .
“Like coach Hamilton just said, you can’t go talking about fouls for both teams. I thought that was blatant, but I can’t go into all that.”
Snaer – who was the ACC Tournament MVP last spring, and who has already made two buzzer-beating game-winners this season – blew down the right side of the lane.
Gregory lamented later a couple freshmen “hugging” their men too closely elsewhere on the floor. Chris Bolden was on that right side, halfway between his man in the corner (waiting for a potential kick) in the lane. He could have factored, but did not.
Marcus Georges-Hunt was too far over in the weak (left) corner to offer effective help. He should have been shading toward the paint, even more so with Snaer’s first dribble-step to the right. Robert Carter was high left side, and dove when Snaer drove although he didn’t have much chance to impact the play.
Miller was in the paint, backing up Bojanovsky.
Had he been fronting Bojanovsky – which in that situation was the right play based on the scouting report because the likelihood of Snaer passing to anyone, let alone a freshman with a defender in his face, was slim – Tech would’ve had more hope.
Yet when Snaer drove, Jojanovsky sealed off the Jackets’ best shot blocker.
Snaer snaked down the right edge of the lane, and flipped an under-handed prayer. It banked in, and ended the game.
“We should have had better help on that,” Gregory said. “Sometimes in that case experience is the only teacher you have, but you can’t let the MVP of the ACC Tournament . . . you got to make someone else take that shot.”