Last night's loss to the Duke Blue Devils was somewhat expected. Florida State had already marched into Duke's house and taken them down. Coach K, the US olympic team coach and probably the greatest basketball coach in America - nay, the world - would have learned FSU's game. Oh, and Duke had Austin Rivers. (On the floor, it really was Austin Rivers and everybody else). Duke wanted revenge, and they got it.
It was a close fought game between two nationally ranked teams. The score (74-66) was not indicative of what really happened. FSU's defense was what it needed to be for most of the game. Duke's offense would try to swing the ball around the perimeter, but to no avail. FSU was playing a tight man coverage, so the Blue Devils would charge into the paint. Even still, FSU's defense had things covered - for about seven seconds. If Duke had the ball in the paint for long enough, eventually FSU would break down and not know what to do anymore. In the first half, Andre Dawkins (who had 22 points off the bench) would find an open place on the three point line and he'd get his shot off cleanly. In the second half, FSU would simply lose track and foul. Either way, they were giving up easy points.
Duke was hitting ridiculous shots as well. Dawkins and Rivers were both standing 3 feet from the three-point line and still draining shots. Meanwhile, FSU's streaky, hot-or-cold players were mostly on ice last night. Deividas Dulkys made three points on the night and for some reason kept calling to guard Austin Rivers (20 points). After Rivers hit three jumpers over Dulkys, Michael Snaer rotated over to guard him - but in the second half Dulkys demanded he cover the star on the floor, which led to embarrassing results.
Snaer did find his swing last night, putting 18 points on the board. Unfortunately, he lacked patience as well. He got his opportunities for open threes, but took them as quickly as possible. As a team, last night's loss really came down to fundamentals. Bernard James got double teamed in the paint during the last minute of the game and did not need to dribble, but he did and got the ball stripped. As a team, FSU hit 39% of their buckets and only 4 of 15 from the distance. Even worse: free throws.
Duke was committing the most intelligent fouls I've seen. On breakaways Duke would foul players before they took their shot. On dunks, they'd slide in and force the big man to the free throw line, knowing we couldn't hit the shots. If FSU hit 70% from the free throw line instead of 50%, there is only a 4 point deficit in the final minutes instead of a 9 point deficit. The entire game would have been different.
Some highlights of the game: Michael Snaer scoring points. The former all-American has high expectations, and as the team leader he needs to hit those points. Bernard James had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Jeff Peterson was the maestro at the key, and Coach Hamilton gave him 24 minutes on the floor to dish out the ball. It was JP who kept the energy going with 11 minutes left in the game and put FSU back in reach. His leadership and hustle on the floor is crucial to Florida State's success, even in a loss.
FSU is still in the hunt to win the ACC. If Duke and North Carolina (both 11-2 ACC) have one more loss, FSU can pull ahead. 10-3 in the ACC, the Seminoles travel to Miami, Virginia, and then host Clemson in their own revenge game to finish the season. Duke still has VT, Wake Forest and UNC at home. The Tar Heels have Virginia and Maryland before looking for revenge in Durham. Given the unexpected nature and near upsets in the ACC this year, it's possible FSU can still come out on top.