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Jim Sumner On Duke-Florida State

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This is one that I always worried about.

Partly, that's because I always approach trips to Florida State with some trepidation.

A lot of that is aesthetic. Watching Florida State play basketball can be downright painful. Their offense tends to go and come and go again. They aren't aiming for style points.

But they sure can play defense. Not always pretty but almost always effective. The Seminoles always seem to have a long-armed seven-footer genetically engineered for blocking shots. And quick, harassing point guards.

Then there's Chris Singleton, their 6-8 senior defender extraordinaire. He's big enough to handle big guys, quick enough to be a perimeter stopper and he never takes a possession off. The kind of defender Mike Krzyzewski has had on more than a few occasions. The kind of player Krzyzewski called one of the best players in the country and he wasn't blowing smoke.

Florida State has a history of making life in Tallahassee difficult for good Duke teams. They handed the top-ranked 2002 team its first defeat on January 6, defeated sixth-ranked Duke in 1993 and knocked off No.1 Duke on March 1, 2006. Florida State was unranked in all these wins.

Even in the Duke victories, the Blue Devils seem to spend much of the game near the point-a-minute threshold.

Last night's first half was right out of central casting. Poor 3-point shooting, too many turnovers, foul trouble, a lousy final minute. Pretty much the whole menu of things that can go wrong, as Duke dug itself a hole from which it could never totally climb out. With Singleton's help, Kyle Singler may have had the worst half of his Duke career, although the flat-on-the-back-assist to Nolan Smith was pretty neat.

Duke also had its share of defensive stops. That's how you get 28-24.

The second half picked up quite a bit. Singler responded to his first-half doldrums with a spectacular last 20 minutes. But FSU found their offensive mojo at halftime.

Barely five minutes into the second half, Duke found themselves facing their biggest deficit of the season, on the road, against a hostile crowd and a team that badly needs a signature win to impress the folks who reside in the proverbial smoke-filled room.

Eleven points isn't an insurmountable deficit for a team with Duke's firepower if you get hot. Duke just never got hot, not for a sustained period and the have to give Florida State credit for that.

Then there was Derwin Kitchen. He just kept getting in the way. That would be the same Derwin Kitchen who came into the Duke game shooting 29% on 3s and averaging 9.5 points per game, the same Derwin Kitchen who was held scoreless in 31 minutes last weekend at Virginia Tech.

I kept thinking of Sisyphus. Every time Duke pushed the catch-up boulder up the hill, Kitchen would kick it back down.

Duke tied it up at 42 on a trio of Andre Dawkins foul shots and again at 45 on a Singler 3. But both times Kitchen put FSU back on top. Singler missed a 3 that would have tied it with about a minute left and Florida State sewed it up from the line, six straight in the final minute. They earned their 66-61 victory.

This was Duke's first real road trip since Kyrie Irving went down and questions abounded. Most of them were not answered to Duke's satisfaction. There's an old basketball saying that a team that lives by the jump shot, will die by the jump shot. Singler and Smith did their part but the rest of the team was a woeful 2-17 from behind the arc. Mason Plumlee was all over the boards but none of the big men brought much offense to the table.

Mike Krzyzewski said the same thing after the loss that he's been saying after wins and the same thing he likely would have said had Duke pulled it out. Duke is a good team, with lots of young players, trying to get learn, trying to get better. It's mid-January and Duke sure had some wobbles around this time last year.

Duke returns home to face Virginia Saturday, before playing four of their next five on the road. So, we'll find out soon enough if Duke's youngsters can learn the lessons taught last night, the biggest of which is that everybody will bring their A game against Duke. The Blue Devils knew that in the abstract but the reality is something else.


Duke does not play Florida State again in the regular season.

The last time Duke lost consecutive games was February 11 and 15, 2009 when the Blue Devils fell to North Carolina and Boston College.

The only times Duke in the modern era in which Duke has gone deeper than January 13 before suffering its first loss were 1986 (January 18), 1989 (January 18), 1992 (February 5), 2003 (January 18), and 2006 (January 21). The 1994 team also lost its first game on January 13. All of these teams except the 2003 and 2006 teams advanced to the Final Four.

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