TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton says his young team is growing up although he's not sure they've come far enough to repeat as Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champions.
Victories over Virginia and North Carolina State to close out the regular season guarantee the Seminoles (17-14, 9-9 ACC) an eighth consecutive winning campaign and a possible NIT berth if they fail to repeat as ACC champs this week in Greensboro, N.C. Florida State had lost badly at both NC State and Virginia earlier in the year.
As he prepares for Thursday's 9 p.m. opening round matchup against Clemson, Hamilton is relieved his freshman-dominated lineup came together in the final week of the season with arguably their two most impressive wins of the year.
"We thought all along that this team had pretty good potential," Hamilton said. "The way we finished the season gives us a little momentum and some confidence."
The late-season emergence of freshman point guard Devon Bookert has steadied the Seminoles' offense which has relied heavily on veterans Michael Snaer and Okaro White all season.
"With the ball being in Bookert's hands, he's getting more and more comfortable," Hamilton said. "He's a quick thinker."
A self-described "pass-first point guard, Bookert joined fellow freshmen Michael Ojo and Aaron Thomas in the Seminole starting lineup that produced the wins over NC State and Virginia.
Bookert scored 10 of his career high 18 points in the final five minutes of last weekend's 71-67 win over North Carolina State that knocked the Wolfpack out of a first-round bye in the tournament. The Alaskan import (he's from Anchorage) leads the Seminoles in assists, 3-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage.
Snaer and White are the only Seminoles averaging double figures.
Snaer, a third-team all-conference pick whose 1,506 points have him 10th on the school's all-time scoring list, averaged 14.2 points in his final season while White averaged 12.2 points and a team leading 6.1 rebounds.
It was a strange campaign for the Seminoles, who won their first two and last two games of the conference season and stole another handful in between with help from Snaer, who hit game-winning baskets in the final seconds four times. They haven't won three straight games since late December.
Florida State defeated the Tigers twice during the season, 71-66 at Clemson and 70-67 in Tallahassee on Snaer's 3-point basket at the buzzer that was preceded by freshman Devon Bookert's 3 with 44 seconds left that tied the score.
"It's very, very tough to beat a team three times in one season," White said. "We need to get focused and not take anybody lightly."
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