Jan. 21, 2014
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - They haven't lost their magic!
Ian Miller's floater from the lane with four seconds to play delivered Florida State a pivotal 76-74 Atlantic Coast Conference basketball victory over Notre Dame Tuesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
"It was just a hop-step and a floater," said Miller, who drove the lane off a Boris Bojanovsky ball screen just beyond the free throw line. "We work on that (play) every day. ...
"Aaron (Thomas) attracted a lot of attention because he was hot tonight, so that allowed me to really just focus on the ball screen. Coach says I'm his best offensive player. I just want coach to give it to me. When you've got coaches living and dying with you, the decision is really easy to make that play like I did tonight."
There's a reason for Miller's matter-of-fact explanation of the game-winning play, which moved the Seminoles (13-5, 4-2 ACC) into fourth-place, with one-third of the conference season in the rearview mirror. The senior guard's game-winning basket was the ninth by a Seminole - his second - in the waning seconds of a game over the past three seasons.
"Ian got into the lane, had an open look and we were very fortunate to have it go in," said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, who watched his team execute the final possession flawlessly.
"That was a big shot right at the end there, and they made big shots throughout the game to kind of never let us really feel like we could close the gap or win it," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. "They did a great job with the ball screen. ... He got a runner. He hit a tough shot. You've got to give a really good player a lot of credit for knocking down a big shot at a key time."
Notre Dame guard Eric Atkins, who led the Irish and all scorers with 24 points, nearly sucked the air out of crowd of 7,799 when his running 3-pointer was on line but caromed off the iron as the horn sounded.
It was a surprisingly dramatic finish to game that saw the Seminoles lead by as many as 13 early and carry a 41-33 lead into the locker room at the half. FSUte led 67-57 with 7:55 to play before Notre Dame mounted its final charge.
The Irish (10-8, 2-4) clawed their way back in the game behind Atkins and Garrick Sherman (21 points, 10 rebounds), who combined for 12 of Notre Dame's final 17 points. The Irish shot 55 percent from the floor in the second half against the normally stingy Seminole defense.
"Our offensive efficiency was good," Brey said. "We were small, with four guards around Sherm. ... Eric Atkins was fabulous tonight, setting the tone and kind of making us believe."
An Atkins 3-pointer with 3:20 play pulled the Irish within 72-70, and a turnover by Okaro White gave the first-time visitors to Tallahassee to tie or take the lead. White, however, came up with a loose ball on the floor, flipped it to Bojanovsky, who fed Aaron Thomas (20 points) for a run-out dunk.
"All I know is the ball popped out and I was fortunate to dive on the floor and get it - not get a jump ball - and throw it to Bobo," said White, who finished with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Thomas' dunk loomed large. Atkins' driving layup cut the lead back to 74-72 and when White misfired a 3-pointer from deep in the corner, Pat Connaughton's driving layup with 33.3 seconds remaining knotted the score.
"We had a tremendously hard time keeping Notre Dame out of the paint," said Hamilton. "We didn't have very many turnovers , but I thought we had turnovers at very critical times in the game and they made us pay. Offensively we executed very well. On the defensive end of the floor, we left something to be desired."
Hamilton burned a timeout to set up the final set, leading to Miller's game-winner. Then it was just a matter of the Seminoles and the home crowd holding their breath as Atkins unleashed his final shot.
"He was hot," Miller said of Atkins. "I grew up playing against him. When he let it go I (knew) he was capable of making something like that. We've got to work on that transition defense at the end, stay poised and not let anyone break on us it like that. I held it until it hit the backboard."
Miller finished with 11 points and Devon Bookert added 10 on a night when the `Noles needed every one of them.
Now it's on to Cameron Indoor Stadium - the site of another FSU buzzer-beater on its last visit - and a Saturday showdown with Duke.