TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A few days before Florida State’s home finale against Miami, coach Leonard Hamilton and senior Jarquez Smith were discussing Smith’s future.
Make that the distant future.
“I said, ‘When you’re sitting there in the rocking chair, weighing about 350 pounds and you have your kid, you’ll tell them that y’all won 50 games in a row,” Hamilton said with a laugh. “The fish always gets bigger.”
As it stands, the fish is already pretty big.
Fifteenth-ranked Florida State put the finishing touches on one of the best regular seasons in program history Saturday, cruising to a 66-57 victory over No. 25 Miami on Senior Day at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
The victory brings several milestones and accolades for the Seminoles. Among them:
— A second-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league considered by most pundits to be the toughest in the country.
— A double-bye in next week’s ACC tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. As the tournament’s No. 2-seed, FSU will begin play in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
— A perfect, 18-0 home record and the first time FSU has gone undefeated at home since 1975-76.
— A seventh victory against a top-25 opponent, which is tied for the most of any team in the nation. Six of those victories have come at home.
— A school-record 24th win in the regular season and a school-record-tying 12thACC win.
— Finally, a fitting send-off for seniors Michael Ojo and Jarquez Smith, each of whom will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time.
“Coach made it everyone else’s priority to send me and Ojo off like legends in our last home game,” Smith said. “I think it fired everybody else up, fired me up, fired Ojo up.
“We just came out and got it done.”
When the clock hit zero, Ojo led the Seminoles (24-7, 12-6 ACC) for a victory lap around the floor – first to high-five the band and student sections, and then to meet with fans who poured into the arena’s lower bowl hoping for pictures and autographs.
All told, they lingered on the court for a half-hour or more.
Hey, sometimes the moment is worth savoring.
“You see me smiling,” Ojo said. “This is something that you look back 10 years, 20 years from now, you have good memories talking about it to your kids and your friends.”
With FSU’s Dwayne Bacon and Miami’s Davon Reed trading early baskets, the Seminoles went into the break with a three-point lead despite being outshot from the field and surrendering five 3-pointers in the first half.
Bacon would go on to score a game-high 23 points – his second-highest total of the season – and Reed finished right behind him with 22.
“It’s a good day,” Bacon said. “The ACC is the toughest conference in the country. We’ve got the best teams in this conference … and we just proved a point this year that we can be a top team at all times.”
In search of a defensive spark, the Seminoles flustered the Hurricanes (20-10, 10-8) by switching to a zone defense in the second half.
The move paid off: Miami shot a paltry 7 of 22 (31.8 percent) from the field in the second period and suffered through scoring droughts of 5:41, 4:02 and 2:37.
That allowed FSU to steadily extend its lead, which reached as high as 11 points when Bacon threw down an alley-oop from Terance Mann with 4:16 to go in the game.
“(The zone) was a little more effective than I had anticipated, to be very honest with you,” Hamilton said. “Because they really shoot the ball well from the perimeter. I just think that taking some time off the clock and giving them a different look just made them think a little and took them away from driving by us and getting in the paint.”
FSU outscored Miami 30-16 in the paint and enjoyed a 17-7 advantage in points off of turnovers.
“When you lose by nine, that 17 to 7 is the big difference,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “And we had 13 turnovers and they only had nine. So that was the game.”
The Hurricanes gave the Seminoles a slight scare late, using a 9-2 run to trim their deficit to just four with 19 second remaining.
Bacon, however, went to the basket for a three-point play at the other end, and Rathan-Mayes hit another layup to provide the final margin.
Next stop for FSU: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where it played in the NIT season tip-off in November.
The Seminoles went 1-1 in games there, with a loss to Temple and a win over Illinois.
“We want to make sure that we milk this season for all we can get out of it,” Hamilton said. “I enjoy it. I’m happy. I’m excited. But the most important thing here is let’s not be satisfied with where we are now. Let’s go see if we can do other things that will give us even fonder memories.”
And maybe a bigger fish.