GREENSBORO, N.C. — Florida State forward Okaro White had a grin from ear to ear, his teammates still in the midst of celebrating after the Seminoles escaped with a last-second 67-65 victory over Maryland in the second round of the ACC tournament Thursday. But then the topic turned to Florida State’s next opponent — top-seeded Virginia — and White’s tone turned decidedly more serious.
When he last faced the Cavaliers on Jan. 18 in Charlottesville, the contest ended with both teams needing to be separated in the handshake line after White and Virginia point guard London Perrantes nearly came to blows. White, who was publicly reprimanded by the ACC over the incident, said it was “disrespectful” for Virginia to throw an alley-oop to sophomore Justin Anderson in the waning moments of a 78-66 victory that had already been decided.
It was the culmination of “a lot of talk between both sides,” White said. Playing each other twice in 10 days to start conference play — Virginia also defeated Florida State, 62-50, on Jan. 4 in Tallahassee — only exacerbated the situation.
So when told Wednesday that Cavaliers forward Akil Mitchell said of Florida State, “That’s Florida State. It’s nothing new,” in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 18 game, White provided a little bulletin-board material of his own.
“If that’s the way we are, then why you trying to fight us? If you know we’re the big dog then, don’t try to not be you. Where I’m from, that’s how I grew up,” said White, a Clearwater, Fla., native who scored four points and grabbed seven rebounds in the win over Maryland. “We’ve got a lot of guys who grew up in tough situations and they got a lot of guys who didn’t. So if you know that’s how we are, don’t try to be a tough guy if you’re not a tough guy.”
This is the backdrop the Cavaliers will encounter when they take the floor here hoping to advance to the ACC tournament semifinals for the first time since 1995. But they’ll also face a team that, late-game skirmishes aside, has an appreciation for how Virginia earned its first outright regular season conference title since 1981.
White, for instance, was quick to point out he had “a lot of basketball respect” for the Cavaliers. He even sent Coach Tony Bennett an apology letter after the Jan. 18 incident.
“The biggest thing for me is they don’t beat themselves. I believe they’re all brothers and they don’t care who scores the most points, who gets the most rebounds or who gets the shots,” White said of Virginia, before addressing his own actions in Charlottesville
“It’s a frustration thing. Normally you don’t play great defensive teams and when it’s tough to score, you get frustrated. When you don’t see the ball go in, you get frustrated. But you got to keep your temper.”
Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton admitted White made “a mistake” back in January, but that it was the furthest thing from his mind with another matchup against the Cavaliers on the docket.
“They were like a well-oiled machine,” Hamilton said. “We caught them right after Tennessee and they were as together as any bunch that I’ve ever seen. As coaches, we all try to get our teams to what we call that magic level, mentally and emotionally. And that one mind-set has separated them from everybody else in the ACC because that elusive mind-set that we’re all are looking for when we’re having sessions with our kids, showing them films, that thing called ‘it’ that we’re always chasing, they got ‘it.’ . . .
“They represent what a team is supposed to be about as well as any team in America.”
White said his motivation Wednesday will be more focused on Florida State’s quest to secure one of the last at-large bids in this year’s NCAA tournament. The Seminoles (19-12) likely need to upset the Cavaliers to feel any sort of security on Selection Sunday.
But White did note he actually has a decent relationship with Virginia seniors Joe Harris and Mitchell from various conference functions. He might even say hello to them before the game.
“As far as, ‘Sorry guys?’ No,” White said. “I think I did enough already.”