With the midway point of ACC play drawing closer, the Blue Devils desperately needed a win to snap a three-match conference skid.

But even outstanding efforts from Duke’s top scorers were not enough to punch through a stifling Florida State defense, putting the Blue Devils on the ropes in the heart of conference play.

Duke fell 3-1 (25-23, 16-25, 25-18, 28-26) to the Seminoles Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Although freshman Payton Schwantz, junior Jessi Bartholomew and senior Cadie Bates notched season-high performances, the Blue Devils could not outlast Florida State in long rallies, falling for the fourth straight time.

“It was a battle out there today,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “I'm really proud of our team and how we're progressing each week, and that was seen out there today with how we're adjusting to some of the injuries that we've had. This team is going to continue to work hard and get better each week.”

The Blue Devils (11-8, 3-5 in the ACC) opened the first set against an unrelenting Florida State offense. Despite Bates and Schwantz’s best efforts, Duke could not stand up to attacks from the Seminoles' Bozena Culo and Milica Kubura. Although the Blue Devils never let Florida State pull farther than three points ahead in the first set, the Seminoles (11-5, 5-3) finally found a way through at 22-21. Florida State’s Taryn Knuth exploded off the bench with three key kills, finally putting the frame away for the Seminoles 25-23.

However, at the start of the second frame, Duke showed it would not go down in Cameron without a fight.

The Blue Devils took the second set with an offensive tenacity that had been severely lacking in the past weeks. Schwantz notched seven kills, and junior Jessi Bartholomew added four of her own. Duke started the set off shaky, but Schwantz and Bartholomew pushed forth to tie the frame 8-8. The Blue Devils then went on to take their first convincing lead of the match, pulling forward 19-14 before finishing the set on a 6-2 run.

Although Duke found a much-needed gear going into halftime, Florida State found the reset it needed to close out the match.

The Seminoles raced to a lead in the third set with a quick 7-2 run, but the Blue Devils responded with five points of their own to come within one. However, Florida State never let off the gas on offense, as Culo and Kubura combined for nine of the Seminoles’ 16 kills in the set and a bulletproof Florida State defense contributed 21 digs in the frame. The Seminoles commanded the set to the end, keeping Duke from building any momentum.

“We started off a bit slow in the first and third sets and that just put us behind from the beginning, and it's hard to fight back from that,” Bates said. “But we're a fighting team, and we're always going to fight back.... I'm proud of how we worked and adjusted to some things today, we just need to do that a little earlier.”

In the final set of the afternoon, Florida State again refused to give the Blue Devils room to breathe. Natasha Calkins sank three early digs to put the Seminoles ahead at 12-8. But Duke battled back to tie it at 24, as untimely service errors from Florida State extended the set.

Although Bates had two massive kills in the extended frame to help Duke save the first three match points it faced, Calkins kept the Seminoles ahead with a kill of her own before Kubura brought the Blue Devils down. The 6-foot-4 outside hitter crushed back-to-back kills right through Duke’s front line, closing the set 28-26.

The Blue Devils could not break down a Florida State defense that contributed 92 digs in four sets, but Duke did show moments of offensive firepower that were lacking through much of its slump. Schwantz totaled a career-high 19 kills, and Bartholomew set a season high with 12. Meanwhile, Bates notched her 10th double-double of the season with 13 kills and 21 digs.

“Payton has been consistently an amazing player for us, a good spark, and such an aggressive outside [hitter]," Bates said. "Jessi really stepped up today. She had to fill a roll with Natalie [Schilling] going down and she has taken a few games to get adjusted to it, but today she really shined for us and it made a really big impact.”

Duke will continue searching for its first win since Oct. 1 on the road, where the Blue Devils will face Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Friday, followed by Virginia Tech Sunday in Blacksburg, Va.

“It sucks because the last few games, we come into the locker room saying, 'We could've had that one,'” Bates said. “We're definitely getting closer to the outcome that we want.... I'm excited to get back to work, but honestly I just want to get back on the court and compete with these girls again. Next week couldn't come sooner.”