FSU Basketball: Finishing games an early point of concern for ‘Noles

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Okaro White has been nowhere to be found down the stretch for Florida State. (RICARDO ARDUENGO/AP Photo)

Florida State still learning to close teams out

A third place finish at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is nothing to feel bad about, but for Florida State, the Seminoles probably feel that it’s a tournament they should have won. After an 85-67 victory over a top 10 Virginia Commonwealth team in the opener, Florida State let a 16-point lead and a late eight-point lead slip away in an overtime loss to Michigan before nearly doing likewise in a 62-60 win over Northeastern on Sunday.

The Seminoles are having to replace their greatest closer ever in guard Michael Snaer, but the struggles down the stretch of games absolutely must be corrected if Florida State is to be competitive in the ACC.

In Friday’s 82-80 overtime loss to Michigan, Florida State led 67-59 with under three minutes to play in regulation and could not hold on. Over the final three minutes, the Seminoles turned the ball over four times without attempting a field goal. Two free throws from Devon Bookert accounted for Florida State’s only points down the stretch of regulation and with the game knotted 69-69 with seconds to play, senior guard Ian Miller stepped out of bounds thwarting a chance for Florida State to win the game in regulation.

Defensively down the stretch, Florida State yielded way too many easy baskets to the Wolverines including an uncontested game-tying layup from Nik Stauskas that forced the extra period.

In the tournament’s third place game against Northeastern on Sunday, FSU led 58-52 with 2:33 to play and nearly let that one slip away as well. Offensively down the stretch, Florida State settled for four jump shots in a row while defensively, the Seminoles put Northeastern at the line for six of their final eight points with silly fouls. Fortunately for Florida State, Bookert was able to bail the Seminoles out late with a short floater off of an offensive rebound with just a second to play.

At 5-1, Florida State is off to a surprising start to many. The Seminoles certainly have a talented young team, but Florida State probably feels that it should be 6-0 at this point. What FSU’s trip to Puerto Rico could serve as however, is an early learning experience.

Florida State has a number of guys that should be able to handle the basketball down the stretch, but senior Ian Miller has been Florida State’s best offensive player thus far and Miller will need to get used to having to make plays in the final minutes of close games. Miller has made big shots before late in games, but has usually deferred to Snaer over the course of the past couple years.

Okaro White, the only other senior to spend four years in Hamilton’s system, was absent late for Florida State in Puerto Rico. White had a solid 18-point, 10-rebound effort against Michigan, but was nowhere to be found in the game’s final minutes. White fouled out against Northeastern after a season-low of just six points.

On the defensive end, Florida State simply has to give the same effort for 40 minutes. The Seminoles were too passive late in their loss to Michigan giving up way too many easy baskets and were overly aggressive in the victory over Northeastern as Florida State allowed the Huskies to get back into the game at the free throw line.

While Florida State is off to a solid start, winning close games will be vital if the Seminoles are to make a return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it for the first time in five years a season ago. FSU finished 2-1 in Puerto Rico, but is still in the midst of a tough non-conference stretch as the Seminoles visit rival Florida on Friday before traveling north to face Minnesota next Tuesday.

With a record of 5-1, Florida State is certainly off to a strong start, but if the Seminoles are to put a disappointing 2012-13 season behind them, they will need to mix in some strong finishes.

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