A straight-faced Florida State fan held up a sign to an ESPN camera Thursday night at the Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Fla., that read: “You’ve been Snaered.”
No facial expression, or explanation, needed. By now, six ACC teams know not only what that means, but what it feels like. Virginia was just the latest.
Florida State senior guard Michael Snaer drove the lane, drew contact and scored anyway on a left-handed layup with 4.4 seconds left, converting his sixth game-winning shot in the past two seasons.
“I never really imagined one, let alone as many as I’ve hit,” Snaer said.
Virginia has the top scoring defense in the ACC and a defensive-minded coach in Tony Bennett. But he watched helpless, even though he and everybody in the arena knew who would take the shot.
“There are just those certain players that have that ability, when the pressure’s on or a play needs to be made — they just slow it down,” Bennett said. “… That’s a separator.”
Snaer, last year’s ACC tournament most valuable player, enters this year’s tournament leading a team that had to remake itself after graduating six seniors. The defending champion Seminoles defeated N.C. State on Saturday to claim a No. 6 seed and will open Thursday against No. 11 Clemson, the first of four ACC teams to be “Snaered” this season.
Of the six game-winners, four came on 3-pointers and two on drives. Three came on kick-out passes. Three he created on his own. Snaer made the layup against Virginia with 4.4 seconds left — oodles of time by his standards. The other five game-winners came with 2.6 seconds left or less, including three with the backboard lit and the buzzer sounding.
It started with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at Cameron Indoor Stadium to snap Duke’s 45-game home winning streak. Coach Mike Krzyzewki called Snaer the best competitor in the ACC and told him so after FSU knocked Duke out of last year’s ACC tournament. Coach K would have been hard-pressed to predict another four game-winners this season, but by Thursday’s Virginia game, Snaer’s teammates were calling for it.
Joell Hopkins told Snaer he predicted it at halftime. The Seminoles fan with the sign had him beat.
“There’s a mentality that he has that he doesn’t care if he misses it,” said Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory, whose Yellow Jackets gave up a buzzer-beating drive to Snaer on Feb. 5. “He’s not thinking about necessarily winning the game. He has the mentality that he’s OK if they lose it with the ball in his hands.”
It’s not that Snaer doesn’t care if his team loses; this is a guy who used to throw video-game controls and cry to his mom that the computer was cheating. The second-oldest of eight children, Snaer couldn’t let his younger sisters beat him in Connect 4. These days, he acknowledges getting frustrated when his 3-year-old daughter can’t master a game on his smartphone.
But he relishes the late-game responsibility, either way. In Snaer’s freshman season, two of his last-second chances failed — on a charging call against Maryland and a missed jumper against Miami. He learned he could handle it and also use it.
“I’ve been there before,” Snaer said. “The only thing I’m afraid of is not giving myself a chance to win if I turn the ball over or not get a shot off.”
He does everything he can to make sure he gets it right.
“He loves being in the gym working on his game,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He calls it the laboratory; ‘I’m going to the lab.’”
Snaer is a basketball thinker, and as Hamilton says, a bit of a perfectionist. In each of the six game-winners, Snaer can point to a mistake he learned from a similar play earlier in that game or another game, or something he learned at practice.
Of the 3-pointer against Duke, Snaer said twice the previous season he failed to sprint down court after an opponent’s made basket — in overtime in an NCAA tournament loss to Virginia Commonwealth and in the ACC tournament loss to Virginia Tech.
“I was still standing right there, like ‘Aw, dang, they just made a shot,’” Snaer said. “The ball is already out, and I’m just in the way. I’m messing up the spacing. So during the Duke game, as soon as the ball went through, I didn’t think about it. I just took off down the court and got good spacing. I trusted that (point guard) Luke (Loucks) would get the ball down the court and make the right play.”
Snaer acknowledges his 3-pointer to beat Clemson on Jan. 24 was lucky. He started out on a bad angle, missed a screen set for him near midcourt and didn’t initially know how much time was left. He banked in the shot over two defenders.
But in that final moment, he took his time. That was something he practiced the day after rushing a shot and missing in FSU’s NCAA tournament loss last year to Connecticut. Assistant coach Stan Jones explained to Snaer if he had taken two hard dribbles and pulled up, he would have been fine.
“Him telling me that really helped me calm myself down in clutch situations and slow the game down a little bit mentally,” Snaer said.
Snaer can slow the game in his mind to the point of overcoming even his own worst-case scenario. Against Georgia Tech, he let a routine pass go off his hands for a turnover with 42 seconds left with the score tied. But the Seminoles held on defense, and he got a second chance. He could have been called for a push-off on Mfon Udofia, but wasn’t and never gave up on a drive to the basket.
“When you’ve been playing for a while you take a step back and think, ‘Yeah, that was a big play;, yeah, they got a little momentum, but look at the score, look at the time we have,’” Snaer said. “I can forget about that and just start fresh.”
FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC
FSU senior guard Michael Snaer has made six game-winning shots, four of them this season:
Thursday (vs. Virginia): Snaer drove the lane and scored a left-handed layup over Virginia’s All-ACC forward Joe Harris with 4.4 seconds left. Snaer made the free throw for a conventional 3-point play and a 53-51 win.
Feb. 5 (at Georgia Tech): Snaer drove the lane and scored at the buzzer for a 56-54 win at McCamish Pavilion. He had turned the ball over on FSU’s previous possession and also avoided a possible charging call, before driving for the game-winner.
Jan. 30 (vs. Maryland): Snaer made a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left for a 73-71 victory, giving him two last-possession game-winners in less than a week. Ian Miller had driven the lane and passed out to him on the left baseline.
Jan. 24 (vs. Clemson): Snaer banked in a 3-pointer from 25 feet with two defenders in his face for a 60-57 victory. He had lost track of the game clock, but looked up to see two seconds left and got the shot off just in time.
Feb. 16, 2012 (vs. Virginia Tech): Snaer nailed a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left for a 48-47 win. He got open on the right wing, waving his right hand to point guard Jeff Peterson who penetrated and passed to him.
Jan. 22, 2012 (at Duke): Snaer made a 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer for a 76-73 win against the then-No. 4 Blue Devils. The victory snapped Duke’s 45-game home winning streak and move FSU into first place in the ACC.