TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jarquez Smith’s day started and ended with a standing ovation.
As No. 15 Florida State put the final touches on a 66-57, Senior Day win over No. 25 Miami, senior Smith took a moment to let it sink in.
An unblemished 18-0 record at the Donald L. Tucker Center this season, a No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament, and an already locked-in high seed for the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks.
“It was like the perfect ending, this whole year being undefeated at home,” Smith said. “Coach (Leonard Hamilton) made it everyone’s priority to send me and (fellow senior, Michael) Ojo off like legends on our last home game.”
When the final buzzer sounded Smith and Ojo led the team in a victory lap around “The Tuck” celebrating with the band, students, and fans that remained in their seats to enjoy the moment. It was as if the Seminole’ faithful and players knew they’d witnessed one of the best regular seasons in program history and weren’t going to let the moment leave them.
“It gives me chills, it was an overwhelming feeling,” Smith said. “Knowing my family was in the stands for my last game too, it just made me happy.”
Smith, finished with 11 points and five rebounds to help the Noles knock of the Hurricanes for the second time this season. As FSU held on to a tight 42-39 margin with 13:32 left in the game, Smith provided one of the best plays of the year for the Seminoles, one that is surely to be replayed on highlight shows around the country this week.
After Xavier Rathan-Mayes missed a three-point shot, Smith skied and threw down a rim-rattling, one-hand putback dunk, igniting the arena and his teammates.
“He was way above me,” sophomore Dwayne Bacon said. “I was about to go try and put it back (first), but he got up there. It was crazy.”
Added Smith, “I played a lot more aggressively knowing this would be my last time playing in the Tucker Center. That was a big motivation (factor) for me.”
The slam helped spark a 7-1 FSU run, pushing the lead to a comfortable margin the Seminoles would never relinquish.
“It did a lot for us in that moment,” Rathan-Mayes added. “’Quez’ did a good job of sparking our offense, he was aggressive and we need him to do that every single night. If he does that, our team is better.”
Smith’s transition to the center position has helped solidify the paint for FSU this season. It’s a transition Smith said needed some time getting adjusted to, but one that was necessary for his team to be successful in this campaign.
“He’s matured a lot and his game has taken a new step playing the ‘five,’” Rathan-Mayes said. “His IQ is really high and he’s able to teach others. We lean on him to be a cornerstone for program and lead the guys around us.”
“We needed the type of strides he made,” Bacon said. “He put in the work in the off-season, took his role the right way and it’s part of the reason we’re going to the tournament this year.”
If the Seminoles are going to make a deep run in the ACC and, subsequently, the NCAA Tournament, Smith’s energy and activity in the paint will be a key for FSU’s success. However, Smith knows the Noles can achieve milestones this program has seldom seen in its existence.
FSU’s No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament offers an opportunity for the school to make a serious run at its second ACC Tournament title and its first since 2012.
“Being a number-two seed, we want to go there and defend what we earned,” Smith said. “I even think we’re a Final Four team if we can play our best from here on out.”