TALLAHASSEE | Okaro White desperately wanted a homecoming.
The native of Brooklyn, N.Y., is normally not assertive, but he made an exception Wednesday evening.
White put FSU (22-13) on his back for long stretches and scored 20 points, leading the Seminoles past visiting Louisiana Tech (29-8) 78-75 in the quarterfinal of the NIT. The game drew an announced crowd of 4,470 fans at the Donald L. Tucker Center, and it was arguably the most engaged home audience FSU has played in front of this season.
The Seminoles now hit the road, where they will face Minnesota on Tuesday in an NIT semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
Louisiana Tech’s Raheem Appleby — who scorched FSU for 27 points in the opening round of last year’s NIT — missed two 3-pointers in the final five seconds of the contest, including an open jumper from the corner as time expired.
FSU, guided by White’s 14 first-half points, led 37-33 at the break.
Then came the press.
The Seminoles have struggled with turnovers throughout the year. That problem was only magnified when teams opted to use a full-court press. The Seminoles knew Louisiana Tech would bring the press sooner or later, but they were not ready for the onslaught of energy that came with it.
FSU turned the ball over on three of four possessions, leading directly to six points for Louisiana Tech as the Bulldogs took a 43-39 lead three minutes into the second half.
White did his best to carry FSU during the stretch, scoring five points as the Seminoles closed the gap and trailed 45-44.
White — prone to picking up unnecessary fouls for a majority of the season — picked up his fourth foul with 15:57 remaining and did not return until the 4:56 mark.
The Seminoles’ offense became stagnant with White sitting on the bench.
FSU did not score for nearly minutes until Aaron Thomas broke the scoring drought with a two-handed dunk off an inbounds pass to make the margin 51-46.
Thomas ignited the Seminoles, and guard Ian Miller followed suit.
Thomas scored on the next possession and then connected on a trey to put FSU back ahead 59-58 with 9:40 left in the contest.
Miller’s 3-pointer gave FSU 63-60 lead and sent the crowd into a frenzy as Louisiana Tech promptly called a timeout.
Miller and Thomas combined for 16 points while White watched from the sideline.
Thomas finished with 21 points and Miller had nine.
Devon Bookert, who finished with 11 points, banked a 3-pointer with two seconds left on the shot clock and 38.9 seconds left in the game, pushing FSU ahead 76-68.