TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—With 13:15 remaining in the second half and the Blue Devils down two, Florida State’s Braian Angola-Rodas had the ball at the top of the key. The guard hesitated, then drove left to beat Duke’s Luke Kennard off the dribble and get into the paint.
As forward Harry Giles rolled over to provide help defense, Angola-Rodas calmly fed a pass to a wide-open Jarquez Smith cutting to the rim for an easy one-handed dunk.
That was one of several sequences in which the No. 9 Seminoles took advantage of graduate student Amile Jefferson’s absence to attack No. 7 Duke inside in their 88-72 win at the Donald L. Tucker Center Tuesday night. With Jefferson on the bench in a walking boot with a right-foot bone bruise, the Blue Devils had no answer for Florida State’s length in the paint and quick guards attacking off the wing.
Duke tried to slow down the Seminoles’ interior offense with a rotation of Harry Giles, Marques Bolden and Chase Jeter down low, but each of them got into early foul trouble, limiting their aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. The trio finished with just six points and eight rebounds.
“It was going to be a tough matchup and it was a tough matchup without Amile,” Blue Devil interim head coach Jeff Capel said. “[The Seminoles] were living in our paint and we have to do a better job there…. The constant pressure and depth just wears a team down and I thought that happened to us.”
From the opening tip on, Florida State relied heavily on pick-and-rolls to create mismatches and dribble by Duke defenders along the perimeter. Once the Seminole guards found open driving lanes, they either went up for shots inside, passed the ball to big men cutting toward the basket or even occasionally kicked it out to open shooters along the wing.
One of the game’s crucial sequences came when Florida State showed enough patience to work the ball to sharpshooter PJ Savoy when the Blue Devils tried to pack in their defense. Savoy knocked down two of his team’s five 3-pointers to highlight a 10-0 burst that staked the home team a four-point halftime edge, forcing Duke to extend and stay with the Seminole guards.
Then, in the second half, as the Blue Devils got worn down, they struggled even more to stay in front of fresh Florida State ball handlers as 11 Seminoles logged at least nine minutes.
Even when Florida State missed shots, it took advantage of its size inside to snag offensive rebounds and extend possessions. With four starters 6-foot-6 or taller and two 7-footers in the rotation, the Seminoles turned 14 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points—many of which came on uncontested tip-ins because Duke’s help defense always seemed to be a rotation late.
By the end of the night, the Blue Devils had surrendered a season-high 56 points in the paint.
“This Florida State team is a very impressive team and is very hard to prepare for. No matter what we do we can’t stimulate their athleticism in a practice,” Capel said. “They have a lot of guys who can drive, they ball screen you to death, and have guys who do a great job of rim running.”
And as is usually the case, the failure to generate defensive stops affected Duke’s offense. Although Duke kept the first half tight by repeatedly answering Florida State’s scoring surges, the Blue Devil offense gradually fell out of rhythm in the second half.
After shooting 46.2 percent in the first period, that clip dropped to 36.7 percent in the final 20 minutes. The Blue Devils strayed from the ball movement they showcased against Georgia Tech and Boston College, often reverting to isolation plays by Kennard and Tatum. Although Tatum scored 21 points, he too looked out of sync, hitting just 7-of-17 shots and committing four turnovers.
“Defense leads to offense for us. We’ve based our game off of that since the beginning of the season,” Kennard said. “We’re a really talented offensive team. And when we can’t get stops, it’s tough to get into a rhythm like that. The way we want to play, the tempo we want to play at, the pace of the game we want to play at kind of gets a little disjointed. That’s what happened tonight.”
The one time when Duke’s defense did slow down Florida State came midway in the first half when the Blue Devils made the switch to zone. The new defensive look immediately disrupted the Seminole offense, as Florida State settled for three consecutive missed jump shots. The Blue Devils benefitted with a 7-0 run and took their first lead of the game.
“That was good on their part because for whatever reason we stalled and seemed to be very passive,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said.
But that hesitancy did not last long, as Florida State tried to push the pace to generate the quicker looks that resulted in a Terance Mann dunk and Savoy’s key triples.
With Duke taking on another physical, aggressive team in No. 14 Louisville on the road Saturday, the Blue Devils will have to find a way to sustain disciplined defense—with or without Jefferson. Duke has not yet announced whether the Philadelphia native will play Saturday.