TALLAHASSEE — Okaro White desperately wanted a homecoming.
The former Clearwater High standout and native of Brooklyn, N.Y., is normally not assertive, but he made an exception Wednesday night.
White put Florida State (22-13) on his back for long stretches and scored 20, leading the Seminoles past Louisiana Tech, 78-75 in the quarterfinals of the NIT. The game drew an announced 4,470 at the Tucker Center.
The Seminoles face Minnesota on Tuesday in a semifinal at Madison Square Garden (time to be determined, ESPN2). Host SMU beat Cal 67-65 Wednesday and faces fellow Clemson in the other semifinal, also Tuesday. The championship is April 3.
Louisiana Tech's Raheem Appleby missed two 3-pointers in the final five seconds, including an open jumper from the corner as time expired.
"We have not won a national title," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "To compete in the NIT is a tremendous opportunity for our guys. Hopefully we'll take advantage of it."
FSU, led 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 magnified when teams opted to utilize a fullcourt press. The Seminoles knew Tech would bring the press, but they were not ready for the onslaught of energy that came with it.
FSU had turnovers on three of four possessions, leading directly to six points for Tech (29-8) 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 got within 45-44. White, prone to unnecessary fouls throughout the season, picked up his fourth foul with 15:57 left. He returned with 4:56 left.
Last season, FSU lost in the first round of the NIT. This season, its players talked of turning the negative of not making the NCAA Tournament into a positive.
"Even though we didn't make the NCAA, we wanted to come into the NIT and still play with that toughness and try to win it," said Aaron Thomas, who scored 21.