As far as sendoffs go, Saturday could not have worked out much better for Michael Snaer and the Seminole seniors.
Florida State (17-14, 9-9 ACC) finished at the .500 mark in conference play with a spirited 71-67 win over North Carolina State (22-9, 11-7) on Senior Day.
Saturday's game featured a little bit of everything. Both teams traded verbal exchanges, at different points both were charged with a technical foul and both squandered leads of eight points. Florida State proved to have the right blend of toughness - a 32-27 rebounding advantage including 16 offensive rebounds - something that was elusive in the teams' previous meeting.
"I thought our kids showed fight in a lot of different ways," said head coach Leonard Hamilton. "A lot of ways... (NC State) soundly outrebounded us up (in Raleigh), just fighting on the boards and scrapping and in transition defense. (There are) a lot of positive things going on today that they now understand. They're learning the effort and the focus you've got to have to compete at this level."
The lead changed hands nine times, the last of which came in a frantic final four minutes in front of a charged 6,730 at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Down 60-57 with 3:51 to play, freshman Devon Bookert assisted on a runner from freshman Montay Brandon and answered a Wolfpack lay-up with a three-pointer before hitting a circus-style floater to put the 'Noles ahead 64-62 at the 2:01 mark.
N.C. State's C.J. Leslie, who played just 18 minutes due to consistent foul trouble, made the second of two free throws to cut the lead to 64-63. Following a Florida State timeout, junior Okaro White hit Snaer with an 80-foot football pass from the Seminole baseline for an uncontested dunk. Hamilton revealed after the game that it was the senior Snaer who called for the play in the huddle.
"Mike came to the bench and said 'Hey coach, they're overplaying me. Why don't we run kind of a home run play?'" Hamilton said. "And we thought that was a good idea."
"When I looked around and saw that," Snaer added of the Wolfpack defense, "I went to the bench and talked to coach about it and we drew something up real quick to help us get a basket. And it just worked out for us."
Freshman Aaron Thomas and Bookert combined to hit three more free throws to put the Seminoles up 70-66 with 13.1 seconds remaining.
Bookert finished the game with a career-high 18 points, while Snaer scored 17 on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor. NC State's Scott Wood, a longtime thorn in FSU's side, scored a team-high 18 points, but was 0-of-4 from long distance in the second half.
Florida State took advantage of early foul trouble for the Wolfpack, hitting all 11 of its foul shots in the first half. But after holding a 32-24 lead with 5:00 to play in the first half, the Seminoles had to recover from a stretch in which it scored just 10 points over the next 13:31.
"It shows that we're maturing as a team, being able to play tough the whole 40 minutes," Bookert said. "Not giving in to fatigue or letting the other team get us down."
That Florida State won its final two games to finish the 18-game ACC schedule .500 brought a smile to Hamilton's face. But he was quick to term the season "average" and "below" the program's recent standards.
"I do feel we kind of dug ourselves to at least some respectability," Hamilton said. "I mean, you're not going to be bragging about going 9-9, but I think the way we finished the season... gives us a little bit of momentum and some confidence now that we can compete with teams that have been successful against us earlier in the year."
As for the ACC Tournament ahead, one in which Florida State will be the sixth seed facing 11th-seeded Clemson, Hamilton said from Saturday's sendoff, "let's see what we can get done."