Whether it was the emotions of Senior Day, a thought of revenge or some combination of the two, the Seminole offense came out clicking on all cylinders in its ACC regular season finale.
A white-hot first half of shooting put the 22nd-ranked Seminoles in early command of visiting Clemson, and although the Tigers made it interesting in the final minutes, that halftime lead was just enough to hold up.
Powered behind a season-high 23 points from Michael Snaer and 11 team three pointers, Florida State (21-9, 12-4 ACC) walked away with an 80-72 victory, achieving 12 regular season ACC wins for the first time under head coach Leonard Hamilton.
"The one thing I've learned is patience," head coach Leonard Hamilton said with a wry grin. "They taught me patience, because their hearts have always been in the right place... they've worked hard, and we've had the opportunity to overcome a lot of challenges that we've faced. I can't say enough about them, how pleased I am that we've won twelve games to tie the school record in the [ACC]."
A 16-point halftime lead nearly evaporated in the final minutes. The Tigers took advantage of 12 second-half turnovers and porous paint defense to close the gap to 75-72 in the game's final 30 seconds. Clemson was forced to foul leading scorer Michael Snaer on the ensuing in-bounds pass, setting the stage for Snaer to push the margin back to five points with two made free throws.
Snaer said he took personal blame for coming up short on last season's Senior Day, making his late two points all the more satisfying.
"It meant a whole lot to me because I wanted to make sure the same thing didn't happen as last year," said Snaer. "We did a great job of staying together and keeping the right focus. A lot of guys got frustrated out there, but we stayed together."
Five Seminoles finished with double-digit point totals, including seniors Bernard James (13), Xavier Gibson (13) and Luke Loucks (10). James added 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season and first since Jan. 10 at Virginia Tech.
"I think my adrenaline was going, because I got tired pretty quickly," James said of his Senior Day. "Tallahassee has been really good to me, Florida State has been awesome, so I wanted to return it with a win today."
The first half set the tone for the afternoon. Although Clemson (16-14, 8-8) opened the game with the hot hand from outside the arc, it was the Seminoles who proved to be the most deadly. Eight first-half three pointers, 64.0-percent overall shooting and 10 team assists put the 'Noles ahead by a comfortable 16 points at the break.
"When they shoot the ball like they did tonight, they're very hard to beat," said Clemson head coach Brad Brownell.
The Seminoles finished the game shooting 26-52 (50.0-percent) from the field, and 17-22 from the free throw line. Clemson was led in scoring by both senior guard Andre Young and freshman forward K.J. McDaniels, who each finished with 16 points.
The Seminoles move on to the 2012 postseason, playing in Friday's nightcap of the ACC Tournament. The game is scheduled to get underway at 9:00 p.m., and at the time of publishing this article, Florida State's two potential opponents are unknown.
An official letter of apology from Bernard James to Virginia Cavalier head coach Tony Bennett was distributed to the media in the first half. In the letter, James quickly admitted his actions in the second half of Thursday's game "had no place on the court." He would add later that "I sincerely regret my actions and hope you, your program and university along with [Cavalier forward Joe Harris] are able to forgive my mistake." The letter was also copied and sent to Virginia's university president, and athletic director among others.
With his three-point shot late in the second half, Michael Snaer eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his Seminole career.
Coach Hamilton and many of the players remarked about an emotional Saturday night team meal in which the seniors talked about what Florida State meant to them. Hamilton said there were hardly "any dry eyes" amongst the team and its seniors. James added that he will suggest such a meeting take place at the beginning of the season from now on. "When you have meetings like that and guys just kind of pour out their heart, it brings everyone closer together."