Michael Snaer picked a bad time to produce the first scoreless game of his collegiate career.
Luckily, the 6-10 forward from Savannah, Georgia, was there to save the day.
Bernard James scored a career-high 19 points and added nine rebounds Friday to help secure a 66-63 win over St. Bonaventure in the NCAA Tournament. There were some tense moments that might've had the Florida State faithful concerned, but a big performance by James -- combined with clutch production from Okaro White and Luke Loucks -- prevented the ‘Noles from becoming victim to a big upset.
"We were fortunate to come away with the victory," said coach Leonard Hamilton.
The small school from upstate New York came ready to play and was focused from the beginning. Led by NBA-bound forward Andrew Nicholson, the Bonnies maintained a lead for roughly 35 minutes. Snaer picked up two early fouls and had been unable to get into any sort of rhythm throughout.
Things appeared bleak, and it seemed as if the ACC-champion Seminoles were going to bow out of the tournament early.
However, James would have none of it and came up large in each and every way for the ‘Noles. After trailing for the entirety of the afternoon, the senior paced FSU when its guards were nowhere to be found. His put-back dunk tied the game at 52, and the Seminoles would never look back.
"We just kept saying over and over again, 'We don't want to go home,'" said Loucks. "B.J. kept screaming at me, 'Get me the ball. I'm going to finish.' When a 6-foot-10 Air Force vet is screaming at you, you listen."
It's a good thing that he did.
Had it not been for James' stellar performance, Florida State may very well be headed back to Tallahassee. He matched Nicholson basket for basket and prevented the Bonnies from getting too far ahead at any point. His defense on Nicholson in the second half was superb, and his monster blocks gained momentum for a squad that struggled to find any.
"We really needed our bigs to step up, and I was able to get some post catches and finish some plays," said James. "I just felt like I did what my team needed. I played as hard as I could."
His hard work and better shooting from the guards are needed if the Seminoles are going to get past Cincinnati in the round of 32. The Bearcats enter as a Big East conference tournament finalist and survived a scare from Texas in the second round. Yancy Gates may provide problems on the interior, but FSU's defense has shown an ability to force big men out of the lane. James, Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft will have to continue to do that if they wish to obtain a second straight Sweet 16 berth.
As the tournament progresses, the ‘Noles will continue to face difficult opponents. St. Bonaventure proved to be no easy task.
"That was one of the toughest games we've played all season, and that's all the credit to their team," said Loucks. "They came out first swinging. We really, really had to fight to win that game."
Winning is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Certainly, the Bonnies gave the Seminoles a difficult game, and FSU had to give its all to pull this one out.
Nonetheless, the 'Noles managed to sustain their composure and come from behind. On a night when some favorites were sent packing, Florida State is thankful to be moving on.
Survive and advance. That's the motto, and that's the only thing that counts.
Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
James comes to the rescue Friday
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