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Duke Gets Past FSU, 70-56 (New Links!)

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Playing Florida State, as coached by Leonard Hamilton, is never an easy task. They are a highly physical team focused on defense, and they don't crack easily. So while Duke was favored, nothing was guaranteed.

Duke had to bring it in this game, and they did, winning 70-56, and nobody brought more heart and passion or played any better than Lance Thomas.

When you look at the box score and see six points, six rebounds, one assist, two steals and two blocks, you might think: why?

Well here's why. Thomas was everywhere and incredibly alert. On one trip down court he put his hands up on the chance that the ball might pass through them. He kept running and the ball did pass over him and he caught up and made a remarkable block. He was on the floor chasing loose balls. He was getting rebounds, and when he wasn't getting rebounds, he was in the middle of things trying to get rebounds. He guarded players who were nearly a half foot taller and did it well. He brought the ball up when he couldn't find someone to pass it to and did that well, too.

The operative words here are alert and passionate. Not everybody can score 20 or 22 points a game as Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer did, but it's equally true that you will never see those guys put in the kind of work that Thomas did in this game. And that's not to knock anybody. People have different roles and Singler and Scheyer perform their roles extremely well. Thomas is all too often overlooked, but having a guy who can do what he did in this game is incredibly valuable and can't be measured by conventional statistics. Thomas is not asked to score much, and what he does doesn't translate well to television. But no one else this team can do what he can do. He is absolutely vital to Duke's success, and that was never more true than in this game.

As we suggested Wednesday morning, this game was always going to be a defensive struggle. Duke shot 43.1% to Florida State's 42.6% and hit twice their three point shots, going 8-22. Florida State won the rebounding battle and limited Duke's big men to eight points and eight rebounds.

On the other hand, though, Thomas and Singler, who really don't count as big men, scored 26 points. And strikingly, Duke almost completely shut down FSU's perimeter game: Derwin Kitchen, Deivada Dulkys, Pierre Jordan, Luke Loucks managed just single three pointer (by Kitchen). Freshman Michael Snaer racked up 13, but he was about it.

And while he scored 13 points, he also coughed the ball up five times, and thus was the leading edge of a big problem for the Seminoles.

Solomon Alabi had four turnovers as did Chris Singleton. Kitchen had three and Ryan Reid had two. Florida State ended up with 22 for the game.

In the second half, it looked as if Duke were going to blow the Seminoles out after taking a 16 point lead, but Florida State roared back and cut the lead to four before Duke responded with a 15-4 run to close out the game.

During this period of the game, when the lead was 51-47, FSU had one stretch on their end where they rebounded a missed free throw, missed, rebounded, missed, rebounded - and turned it over. Duke quickly rebuilt a nine point lead and, basically, that was the game. Everything after that was maintenance.

In the broad scheme of things, it wasn't a beautiful game. Nolan Smith was tough-minded and played some very solid defense and had some extraordinarily alert moments of his own including stripping Alabi in the open court, but only shot 4-15. FSU's inside defense had a lot to do with stifling his penetration.

Scheyer and Singler were both excellent on both ends of the court. Scheyer found his three point shot again and Singler hit inside and out and played with a lot of fire.

Both Plumlees were defended well inside with only Brian Zoubek holding his own, but he fouled out after playing just 13 minutes. And while Miles Plumlee was controlled offensively, he was solid on defense and was critical down the stretch.

Florida State had serious issues in the backcourt and with turnovers, but there is no questioning the talent of Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton. Singleton is farther along (and he is the hands-down winner in the ACC of the LeBron James look-alike contest) and has the talent to be in the NBA if he continues to improve. Alabi, who has more potential, will probably take longer to realize it. He has improved a lot since last year - that little jump hook could become a signature move - but he's not there yet. He doesn't seem to think like a basketball player. He has weird tics - he kicks his legs out at odd times, he moves in a way that is almost dreamlike, and he doesn't always run as fast as you think he could.

But then he pounces. He goes up effortlessly for an alley-oop, or goes after a shot and gets it or pulls down a rebound in a crowd. In order for him to reach his potential, he's going to have to toughen up. The gold standard for African players is Hakeem Olajuwon, and what set him apart was his surreal quickness. He's still the quickest big man we've ever seen, able to out-maneuver anyone in the game.

We don't think Alabi will end up there, although you never know. He's a very athletic big man. But he can become a dominant shot-blocker and rebounder and a guy who should be able to get up and down the court with anyone. Right now, he's not always doing that. He's still playing, essentially, like a guy who is still new to the game, which, of course, he is -- relatively speaking.

That's not the case for Duke. This is an experienced team and a rugged one. They still have some things to work on and getting more rest for the starters would be a plus. But that aside, it's a tough-minded bunch, as we saw at Clemson and now with Florida State. So on to Georgetown!

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