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Baseline Breakdown: No. 13 FSU can’t dwell on heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Duke

The Seminoles just missed an enormous opportunity on Saturday, but need to regroup quickly.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

In a back and forth affair that felt more like an Elite 8 showdown than a mid-January matchup, Duke made one more play than FSU and beat the Seminoles 80-78 on a last second three-pointer. Both teams had to overcome some adversity and both teams had players step up for career days. In the end, the raucous crowd of more than 11,500 was treated to an exceptional basketball game where neither team deserved to lose.

Above the Rim:

  • The game got off to the races in a hurry, with both teams amped up for the big stage and both exhausted by the under 16 timeout. Seminoles and Blue Devils were signaling that they needed a breather and it became clear early on that we were about to see a 15 round, heavyweight battle.
  • Duke has a different level of cats than even they have had in recent years. These freshmen are big, physically mature kids who are incredibly skilled on offense and wise beyond their age on defense. It’s not that Duke (or other teams like Villanova, Kentucky, or Kansas) haven’t had extremely talented players—they have. Just look at the impact guys like Jayson Tatum and Joel Embiid are having in the NBA. It’s that Duke’s freshmen have NBA bodies right now and they have found a way to play as a cohesive unit, as if they were juniors and seniors.
  • Coach Hamilton was brilliant with his game management, putting his guys in the absolute best position to be successful throughout the contest. His substitution decisions were nearly flawless, stealing minutes at critical times and sending waves of players in during the second half while Duke was visibly tired. His timeout in the first half when Duke looked like they might pull away early proved to be perfectly timed, and the Seminoles’ ability to punish Duke when they were in man-to-man and zone looks clearly indicates a team that was extremely well prepared for this challenge.
  • FSU led 59-54 with 10:54 left in the game when Trent Forrest hit the floor writhing in pain. Duke led 66-65 when Forrest came back in at the 6:59 mark. FSU’s offense looked stagnant without their starting point guard, and Tre Jones was able exploit a Seminole defense missing its best perimeter defender.
  • These were some of the best rotations I’ve seen from an FSU defense since Jonathan Isaac was on the team. Time and time again FSU’s secondary defenders rotated on time and in the perfect spot, creating wild passes, failed lob attempts, and forced shots.
  • Coming into the game, the scouting report said to take away Duke’s transition game and force them into threes from the half-court set. As a team they were 32.2% coming into the game, ranking them 247th in the country. Individually, RJ Barrett was 25-80 (31%) and Cam Reddish was 33-98 (33.7%) before playing in Tallahassee. But in this contest, the pair of future lottery picks combined to go 9-15, with most of the damage coming in the second half after Zion Williamson exited, including the game winning shot.

Court Level:

  • Mfiondu Kabengele made some money today. The redshirt sophomore hit multiple threes, made 8-9 from the charity stripe, was a monster on the offensive glass, and altered several lobs/shots. He even gave the Dikembe Mutombo with the finger wag after one of his three blocks. If he continues to play with this kind of intensity, shooting touch, and ability to stay out of foul trouble, FSU’s ceiling goes up a notch.
  • A healthy Phil Cofer adds a completely different dimension to the team. His legitimate three-point range, ability to guard multiple positions, and above the rim explosiveness give Coach Ham an ideal player for his system.
  • Trent Forrest was aggressive while under control, something FSU needs from him more often. In the first half he repeatedly broke down Duke’s man-to-man defense off the dribble, to the point where Coach K had to switch to a zone—against which Cofer and PJ Savoy promptly buried threes. He’s clearly hobbled and playing through discomfort, which is a shame because he is unstoppable to the rim when healthy, but hopefully he can continue to pick his spots and be the steady leader FSU needs.
  • Terance Mann played a fantastic all around game. He didn’t lead the ‘Noles in any one category, but his fingerprints were all over the near-upset win. He created for others, attacked the basket, disrupted Duke’s offense, and crashed the glass.

PJ Savoy had an up and down game, but the senior sniper was nearly the hero at the end of both halves. His lone made-three came with a few seconds to go in the first half, putting FSU up 2 at the break. Then, in the final minutes of the game, Savoy made 5-6 FTs and forced a critical turnover with excellent defensive awareness. If Cam Reddish’s last-second three is off the mark (or if FSU could have secured the final defensive rebound), Savoy’s heroics would have been a major part of the win.


Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski describes the “fantastic basketball game,” updates Zion Williamson’s injury, discusses the last play, and details the legacy Leonard Hamilton has created at FSU:

FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton discusses the last play, his team’s performance, and the need to bounce back quickly:

Mfiondu Kabengele:

Trent Forrest discusses the tough loss, his injury, and the need to regroup quickly:

Phil Cofer:

Up Next:

The Seminoles will have to put the heartbreaking loss behind them in a hurry, as they travel up to Pittsburgh and the Oakland Zoo for a Monday night tip. The Panthers are significantly improved under first-year head coach Jeff Capel, coming off a home win over Louisville two games ago and a hard-fought road loss to NC State yesterday. If FSU doesn’t come out mentally and physically prepared to play, the ‘Noles could easily be staring a 1-3 start in ACC play in the face.