by Jim Sumner
It might have been the shortest celebration in Duke basketball history. The faithful had barely registered Austin River's tying lay-up with five seconds left against Florida State before Michael Snaer buried a buzzer-beating 3 to give the Seminoles a 76-73 win over Duke.
If you didn't have a rooting interest, it was a heck of game. Of course, if you're reading this web-site, you probably have a rooting interest. From my vantage point, it looked a lot more like a game that Florida State won, then a game Duke lost.
The outcome ended lots of streaks, most noticeably Duke's 45-game home-winning streak, one shy of the school record. But more importantly, the resurgent Seminoles handed the Blue Devils their first conference loss and very much inserted themselves into the ACC race.
"A big-time game," according to Mike Krzyzewski. "Obviously a tough loss for us. Would have been a tough loss for either team. Neither team played losing basketball. I thought each possession was hard-fought. I'm just disappointed for my players. It's a tough loss, a very difficult loss."
Miles Plumlee is the only current Duke player to actually lose at home and no one other than North Carolina has won in Cameron since 2007. The Duke locker room was equal parts somber and stunned but there was general agreement that Duke let one get away. Florida State only actually led for about two minutes total and the final margin was their largest lead of the game.
Duke spent much of the game stretching the rubber band but the visitors kept clawing back. In most respects, the first half could hardly have gone better for Duke. The Blue Devils outrebounded FSU 22-14, committed only three turnovers, while forcing seven and didn't even send Florida State to the bonus.
But Duke just couldn't knock down shots. Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly shot a combined 1-14 in the first half, many of them contested but many of them pretty good looks.
The final seconds of the first half were important, perhaps crucial. Leading 32-23, Duke found Austin Rivers for a 3-pointer that bounced high but dropped through cleanly. But the officials ruled that Rivers' shot had touched a cable above the basket and disallowed the shot. Duke forced a loose ball right before the half but Snaer picked it up and banked in a Hail Mary at the buzzer.
Instead of a 12-point Duke lead, it was 32-26 at intermission.
"We held them to 23 points before they banked in that shot," Krzyzewski noted. "Going in with a nine-point lead with the ball," Krzyzewski observed wistfully, not even completing the sentence.
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said his team was hyper in the first half. Once they settled down, the started getting the ball inside with regularity. Duke couldn't consistently deny the entry pass to the FSU bigs, nor could they consistently stop dribble penetration. FSU tied the game at 50, scoring 24 points in the first 8:35 of the second half.
Duke responded with an 8-0 run, a three-pointer off an offensive rebound by Andre Dawkins and five points by Kelly.
Again, Duke couldn't put the game away.
Curry blamed Duke's defense. "That's what happens when you have two good teams. You're never going to get too much a lead. We got it to seven or eight but we couldn't put them away. They kept running their plays and we gave them good shots. When you get a lead like that, you've got to buckle down on defense and we didn't do that."
"Whenever you get a lead like that, coach always says you've got to make another run to put them away and we didn't do that. We felt like we had control of it. We traded buckets at the end of the game instead of getting stops and you can't do that."
Mike Krzyzewski was more philosophical. "It wasn't really a game where either team had a big run. You miss and they hit and there aren't any runs. Sometimes, there's not a lot of explanation. That's just the way the game is played. I don't find any fault in our guys. They're not going to go away. They're a very old team. They're just older. They're men. They play together."
Xavier Gibson hit a huge 3 to make it 58-55; Gibson came into the game 2-12 from beyond the arc.
Florida State caught up at 62, fell back by four and caught up again at 69. Both teams left some points at the line, Duke again missed some open looks and there goes the old winning streak.
"It's just really tough, Rivers said. "I don't even know what to say, really. The two teams fought. It sucks to lose like that. I'd rather lose in overtime by four or five points, than lose at the buzzer like that. There's nothing you can do about it. I'm sitting under the basket watching the ball go in. Your heart drops."
Mike Krzyzewski said this was the kind of game that would help Duke down the road. " You have to assume the other team is going to play hard. When they're as athletic as that, it's just a very tough game. We had a chance to win it and we lost it and the fact that we played that way in this game, I'm really good about that. Because we can get a lot better and we'll only get better by being in games like this. Having them take something out of you and having to execute, that's how you win championships. The only way you do that is to get the experience of being in these games."
Duke gets a rematch in Tallahassee February 23. Save the date.