Florida State’s ACC Tournament run ended in disappointment on Saturday night, when the No. 12 Seminoles lost a 73-63 game to the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils in the title game of the conference tourney. The ’Noles have now won just 14 of their last 16 ACC games after splitting with a pair of NCAA Tournament 1-seeds. Translation: sleep well.
FSU’s defensive strategy was apparent early on. Pack it in, and make Duke — and ACC Player of the Year Zion Williamson — beat you from afar. It was a smart move, and successfully executed early on, as Phil Cofer and RaiQuan Gray held the nation’s top player without a field goal for more than 6 minutes. The Blue Devils obliged by missing their first eight three-point attempts, while the Seminoles opened 3-6 en route to a 27-19 lead with 7:34 to play in the first half.
That wound up being FSU’s largest lead of the game, as both sides played a rather sloppy first half, with the Seminoles committing eight turnovers to Duke’s seven. The Blue Devils fought back to tie the game at halftime, 36 all.
The entire complexion of the game could have been drastically altered had Williamson been called for more of the at-least four fouls he committed prior to intermission; only one was whistled in the first half. But you’re dealing with the biggest individual story in college basketball, by far, playing in his home state, where the conference is based. Williamson will be drafted first in the next NBA Draft, and for good reason: his physicality is simply unmatched in today’s college game. But there are limits to aggressiveness that are far too often ignored when it comes to Williamson.
There are some things you just can’t do anything about.
That’s not making excuses— Duke is the better team, and was in this game, for one good reason that really showed after the break, when the Blue Devils went on a 10-3 run to open up a 46-39 lead. That lead would expand to 58-44 with 11:11 left, at which point Duke held a 77%-21% shooting advantage after the break. Why?
After all, Florida State’s plan to make Duke prove that it could make shots from the perimeter worked, as the Blue Devils wound up 2-14 from deep (14%), while the ’Noles hit on 8-20 trey chances (40%).
Duke won because other soon-to-be NBA players Tre Jones and RJ Barrett finished a plethora of tough shots around the rim. On the other end, Williamson and Javin DeLaurier frustrated FSU with their length, and the Seminoles couldn’t get their tough shots to fall. The Blue Devils made 61% of their two-point chances. The ’Noles? 28%. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap, and this is one of those games.
Jones outplayed Seminole point guards Trent Forrest and David Nichols, sinking 8-14 shots with six assists, compared to combined 2-17 shooting from Forrest and Nichols, who had four assists between them.
On the inside, a 42-18 Duke scoring win in the paint may suggest that the ’Noles were soft on the interior, but that just wasn’t the case. Time and again, FSU defenders flew in for blocks, and they amassed five rejections. But the Blue Devils were simply deft at finishing around the rim, floating shots high off the glass for buckets.
Again: there are some things you just can’t do anything about.
And that extends to when the clock wasn’t even running. Florida State came in as the better free-throw shooting squad, and the Seminoles were amazing from the stripe, converting 15-16. Duke, which came in making 69% of their freebies, drained 17-21 (81%). There’s no defending free throws. So that just falls into the category of...
Some things you just can’t do anything about.
FSU made its run, trimming the Blue Devil lead to 61-56 with 5:28 to play, while committing a scant four turnovers after halftime. Duke just got more tough opportunities to fall— as they did with a tough, formidable opponent in Florida State.
The ’Noles will now await their NCAA Tourney seeding on Selection Sunday. They’ve shown the committee plenty to make that decision between a 3-seed and a 4-seed a difficult one. But, at this point, there are some things you just can’t do anything about.
For now. That all changes when the big dance begins.