ACC Basketball

Duke Survives Seminoles

Emma Loewe / The Chronicle

Sometimes in college basketball, you just need to survive. Coming off a 30-point home victory over Notre Dame, I think everyone expected the Duke Blue Devils to be a little sluggish 48 hours later on the road in Tallahassee, a place they have sometimes struggled at over the years. The question was, how sluggish? I’m going to say…very.

The 4th ranked Blue Devils took over six minutes to score their first points, falling behind Florida State, 8-2, eventually losing Jahlil Okafor to foul trouble for the second straight game, yet stay within striking distance thanks to the Seminoles struggling to get into their own offensive rhythm, taking way too many bad shots, forcing awful turnovers early. The fact is, if you don’t make the Blue Devils pay, you’ll pay.

Eventually, Duke’s two smallest players decided to carry the offensive load.¬†Quinn Cook (26 points) and Tyus Jones (16 points, 12 assists) nailed 9-16 shots in the first half, scoring 22, while the rest of the team delivered just three baskets. Justise Winslow struggled particularly bad, missing a pair of threes, a trio of free throws and a handful of easy baskets at the rim. Yet, Duke still led 32-24 going into the break.

In the second half, it looked like the Devils would pull away, as Okafor came out and scored eight quick points, including a couple of sweet alley oops, to open up a 12-point lead with a little over 14 minutes to play.

However, behind Phil Cofer’s dunks and Robbie Berwick’s deeeep threes, FSU rallied back to within five, sending the nearly sellout crowd into a frenzy. However, three straight threes by Duke’s Jones, Winslow and Cook again opened up the lead back to 11 with five minutes left. Ball game, right?

Wrong. For whatever reason, the Noles typically play Duke tough and Monday night was no exception, as Devon Bookert (23 points) and Montay Brandon (12 points) scored 16 straight for the Seminoles to get them back into the contest and when Xavier Rathan-Mayes (who had a terrible game) put in an amazing layup, Duke’s lead was shockingly down to one, 70-69 with 11 seconds to go.

However, if you ever wondered if Coach K would decide to foul or not to foul up three in the final seconds, you got your answer. The Blue Devils turned the final 10 seconds into a free throw battle between Quinn Cook and Devon Bookert, as Florida State was never allowed to get a three-point shot up to tie the game.

When it was all over, I wouldn’t argue that Florida State had a great game, but they did play with a ton of energy, producing a ton of highlight reel dunks (see the best one below). They did manage to hit 7-14 from deep, which is pretty impressive considering they came in hitting just 29% from deep. And while their bigs did a respectable job shutting down Okafor by keeping him off the block (holding him to just five shots), their guards could do nothing against Duke’s guards, Cook and Jones. The pair lived in the lane like they put down a mortgage.

Speaking of the Blue Devils, it’s a win…be happy, especially after some of Monday’s performances. Winslow, Matt Jones, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson went a combined 2-16 from the floor. Based on the fact Winslow missed so many easy buckets, Jefferson’s put backs rolled out and Jones open threes failed to connect, we’ll just call it an off-night. We all have them.

Instead, let’s look at the positives. Defensibly you have to be a little concerned about how all these bad three-point shooting teams manage to turn into Mark Price against the Blue Devils. Last week it was Georgia Tech hitting 8-11. Yet, they did a fantastic job defending the Seminoles best player, Rathan-Mayes. The strategy was simple, when a big man came out to set a screen for the freshmen, Duke’s big stayed on the point guard and pushed him back, never giving him a chance to cut inside. This was why the Seminoles kept taking bad shots and forcing turnovers, because they kept finding themselves 25 feet from the basket with 15 seconds on the shot clock.

Lastly, Duke fans have to be excited about the way the Blue Devils are finally pushing the ball. I remember watching games earlier in the season, shaking my head, wondering why Duke didn’t push it. They would get a defensive rebound and wait. Now, they run. I know I’m never suppose to compare them with that team from Chapel Hill, but man they look like the old Ty Lawson Nortb Carolina teams right now.

In the end, Duke improves to 21-3 on the season and are now tied with North Carolina at 8-3 in the ACC. Next up is Syracuse in the Doom. For Florida State, I guess this could be called a moral victory, but we are 25 games into the season, there are no more moral victories. The only way the Seminoles get an invite to the NCAA Tournament (without winning the ACC Tournament) is to go undefeated the remainder of the regular season.

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