Twenty seconds remained in a tie game between Florida State and Georgia Tech last Tuesday night when Seminoles guard Michael Snaer overheard two of his teammates say something that made him chuckle.
Michael Snaer sinks a game-winning layup at Georgia Tech last week (AP)"A couple guys said in the huddle, 'Oh, we're going to win this game. Mike's got it," Snaer said. "It was funny to me to hear them say that, but it's a good feeling knowing that your teammates, your coaches and the fans at home are thinking in their heads, 'We got this because we've got Mike.'"
College basketball's king of clutch validated his team's faith in him that night, attacking the rim off the dribble and scoring a game-winning layup just before time expired. The basket was Snaer's third buzzer beater in the previous two weeks and his fifth since January 2012, all in the final 2.6 seconds of a game and all securing victories for Florida State.
Having a reputation for sinking game-clinching shots is still surreal to Snaer because the 6-foot-5 senior still agonizes over his misses far more than he cherishes his makes.
Midway through ACC play Snaer's debut season in Tallahassee, referees called him for charging and nullified a basket that would have tied a game against Maryland in the final 15 seconds. Weeks later, the highly touted freshman missed a jump shot that could have wrapped up a victory over Miami.
"You don't get over those," Snaer said. "I'm going to always remember. Those are the moments that have helped me mature to this point to where I can actually hit game winners. I think it takes failure first."
If so, those early missteps have proven worthwhile for Florida State. Snaer's recent ability to win games at the buzzer propelled the Seminoles to a top-three finish in the ACC a year ago and enabled a youthful, erratic Florida State team (13-10, 5-5) to at least remain in striking distance of an NCAA tournament bid this season.
Snaer relived each of his five buzzer beaters in detail recently during a conversation with Yahoo! Sports. Below are videos of each shot along with Snaer's recollection of what he did right, what he did wrong and what enabled him to sink each shot.
Date: Jan. 22, 2012
Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
Shot: A right-wing 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Florida State a 76-73 victory over the fourth-ranked Blue Devils. The shot snapped Duke's 45-game home win streak and propelled the Seminoles to first place in the ACC.
The key to the most memorable shot of Snaer's career was his ability to learn from a mistake he had made previously in the same situation.
In a Sweet 16 loss to VCU the previous March, Snaer felt he sabotaged Florida State's final play in overtime by not positioning himself properly to give his point guard enough room to make a play off the dribble. As a result, Snaer was careful against Duke to sprint down court until he reached the right corner immediately after Austin Rivers tied the game with a driving layup with 4.9 seconds to play.
"I always thought to myself, if I had just gotten down the floor early enough against VCU, maybe we would have had the space to be able to find a gap and make a play," Snaer said. "[Against Duke], I didn't want to panic and make the same mistake. I took off running as soon as the shot went through."
The reward for Snaer's hustle was a wide-open 3-pointer. A Bernard James screen in the backcourt freed point guard Luke Loucks, who sped up court, drew help defenders and fed Snaer in time for him to get the shot off over a late-closing Andre Dawkins.
"The funny thing is I knew I had enough time to shoot it without rushing it," Snaer said. "I had to trust Luke was a good enough point guard that he would give me the ball with enough time to get a shot off. He wouldn't give me the ball if there wasn't enough time. I had to trust that."
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Even so, Snaer still wasn't 100 percent sure he got the shot off in time. In fact, it brought back memories for Snaer last Thursday watching Illinois' Tyler Griffey frantically looking around to see if he beat the clock on a game-wining layup against Indiana.
"After he made that layup, he turned and looked like, 'Did we win? Was it good? Did I get it off in time?'" Snaer said. "Those same questions were running through my head too. I looked at his face like, 'I've been there. I know exactly what you're feeling like right now.' It wasn't until my teammates ran off the bench and grabbed me that I knew, 'OK, it had to have counted.'"
Date: Feb. 16, 2012
Opponent: Virginia Tech
Venue: The Tucker Center
Shot: Snaer's right-wing 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left erased a two-point Hokies lead and lifted the Seminoles to a 48-47 victory. The win kept the Seminoles in first place in the ACC.
Having trailed by as many as 15 points early in the second half and by eight with less than two minutes to play, Florida State was hoping just to have a chance to win the game on its final possession.
Virginia Tech's Robert Brown gave the Seminoles that opportunity when he missed a pair of free throws with 10 seconds to play and the Hokies up two.
As point guard Jeff Peterson dribbled up the left side of the floor, Snaer ran up the other side until he realized he was wide open due to a miscommunication by two Virginia Tech defenders. Eyes wide, he pulled up at the right wing, waved his hands frantically and hoped Peterson had spotted him.
"Once I saw Jeff drive middle, my hand went up and I couldn't believe they left me open again," Snaer said. "I'm like, 'Oh Jeff, just make this play.' In my head, I'm like, 'Come on, come on, come on.'"
The answer to Snaer's prayers came in the form of a perfect kick-out pass from Peterson after he'd forced the defense to collapse on him in the paint. Two Virginia Tech defenders rushed at Snaer, but he had time to get off a clean look and confidence it was going to drop.
"Once it got to me, it was over," Snaer said. "I knew I was going to make it because of the first one. That time, I knew from the beginning. I was like, 'If they leave me open, I know the shot is going in. I've already done this."
Date: Jan. 24, 2013
Venue: The Tucker Center
Shot: Snaer banked in a right-wing three as time expired to give Florida State a 60-57 win over a Clemson team that led most of the game. The Seminoles trailed by as many as 12 points at home in the second half.
So many of Snaer's game-winning shots have been a result of picture-perfect plays by him and his teammates.
The one against Clemson was more of a happy accident.
The first thing Snaer says he did wrong was not catching the ball going toward the basket on the inbound pass. Mistake No. 2 was failing to use the drag screen properly to create separation from his defender. And the final blunder was losing track of how much time was left in the game.
"In my head I'm thinking I have about five seconds left or so," Snaer said. "I look up, and there's only two seconds. All I have time to do is take one hard dribble and let this thing fly."
Undeterred, Snaer pulled up from 25 feet and hoisted a right-wing 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of multiple defenders. Snaer admits he didn't call bank, but he did think the ball had a chance to go in off glass as he observed its trajectory.
The shot inspired a surprisingly emotional reaction from Snaer considering the team he had just beaten was Clemson and not Duke or North Carolina. The senior ran to the other baseline, pumped his fist and screamed as his teammates chased after him.
"We really needed that game," Snaer explained. "We really needed a home win to keep the faith of our fans and to keep everyone interested. We hadn't been doing so hot to that point, so we had to show a little spark, show a little life and give people a reason to keep coming to our games and supporting us."
Date: Jan. 30, 2013
Venue: The Tucker Center
Shot: In a clash of potential bubble teams, Snaer proved to be the difference, burying a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds to go to give his team a 73-71 victory. Florida State completed a sweep of Maryland to improve to 4-3 in the ACC and 12-8 overall.
For Snaer to have a shot at yet another buzzer beater, he needed Maryland's Dez Wells to fall for the bait.
With Florida State trailing by one and nine seconds remaining, coach Leonard Hamilton drew up a play for point guard Ian Miller to penetrate the defense and either score himself or kick to a shooter. Snaer's job was to inbound the ball, then run between the left corner and the left wing to try to free himself from his defender.
"I had to keep my defender from knowing where I was and try to catch him ball watching," Snaer said. "Once Ian made the drive and got his head turned, I knew I'd maybe have to move one or two times and Ian would have to make a good pass. I was thinking ahead on that play, and that really helped me."
Sure enough, despite Snaer's history of success in late-game situations, Wells got sucked into the paint to help when Miller drove. Miller kicked to Snaer along the sideline and the senior delivered, burying a game-winning 3-pointer to put Florida State up two with only 1.3 seconds remaining.
"It actually worked exactly how we drew it up," Snaer said. "There was so little time left and I had a young player guarding me. I definitely wasn't too surprised I was that open, but I was still kind of surprised. I knew I had a little bit of time to shoot it, and it felt good to get one that was that clean."
The sight of that shot dropping was a relief for Snaer because he felt pressure with Florida State facing a fellow bubble team and trailing by one entering its final possession.
"Me and Ian joked about it," Snaer said. "We talked about how much less pressure it is to shoot the ball when you're tied versus when you're down by one or down by two. It was definitely a good feeling to hit that shot."
Date: Feb. 5, 2013
Opponent: Georgia Tech
Venue: McCamish Pavilion
Shot: Snaer split two defenders and laid the ball off glass as time expired to give Florida State a badly needed 56-54 victory. That play atoned for a mistake he made on the team's second-to-last possession when a routine pass slipped through his fingers for a turnover.
To sink a third game-winning basket in two weeks and a fifth in two seasons, sometimes it takes a little bit of good fortune.
In Snaer's case, the lucky break was a referee's non-call.
With Florida State in jeopardy of being taken to overtime at last-place Georgia Tech, Hamilton put the ball in Snaer's hands on the Seminoles' final possession and instructed his senior leader to make a play. Snaer passed up a ball screen, ran smack into Mfon Udofia and created space with his left arm, sending the Georgia Tech guard sprawling but somehow not inducing a whistle.
"I didn't really feel I pushed off, but the call could have easily gone the other way," Snaer said. "There wasn't enough contact to make him fall like that, but he's a good defender. I'll admit that. I'd probably try to do the same thing if a guy came at me like that. That was a call he could have gotten and he did a great job selling it too."
When referees let Snaer play on, he took advantage of the space he created, split the two defenders and attacked the rim, laying the ball off glass as time expired for a tie-breaking game-winning layup. It was the first of Snaer's game-winners that wasn't a 3-pointer, and he was pleased with his decision to go to the rim.
"It was a higher percentage shot," Snaer said. "I was happy to mix it up a little bit, and I thought that was the right shot in that situation."
No surprise. Whether it's a jump shot or a driving layup, if the game is on the line, college basketball's most feared final-possession scorer always seems to come through.
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