When Florida State needed a bucket down two with just over two minutes left, Trent Forrest barreled toward the lane, hoping Duke's big men would be tentative in the paint with four fouls.
Instead, Wendell Carter Jr. held his ground and took a charge.
After the Seminoles got a rare stop, they attacked Carter again looking to tie the game with a layup or draw his fifth foul. This time, Carter stood tall and defended C.J. Walker's layup, soon watching the contested attempt slide off the rim.
In an gunslinging offensive shootout, it was a series of defensive stops in the midst of foul trouble that won the Blue Devils the game.
"That was a great play. We talk about that all the time in practice, how big those are," freshman Marvin Bagley III said of the charge. "That was an amazing play, knowing that he could have fouled out if the ref called it the other way."
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski did not make a substitution after the under-4 media timeout in the second half, leaving his trusted starting five on the floor. Trevon Duval reentered the game with four fouls with 9:54 left and played the rest of the way, taking over down the stretch.
Carter came back for good with four fouls with 7:32 remaining, and Bagley never left the court after being whistled for his fourth less than a minute later. Gary Trent Jr. picked up his fourth with 3:30 left to put the Seminoles on the line for what turned out to be their final points of the day.
With the Blue Devils' four freshman starters teetering on the brink of disqualification, they managed to hold Florida State scoreless down the stretch and scored the final nine points of the game to pick up their first ACC win 100-93.
"I hope it shows them that we believe in them and that we expect them to play older than they are and to handle that," Krzyzewski said. "We had to play all zone when we had all those guys with four fouls, and we did a decent job of it."
Foul trouble did not make Duke tentative on offense, either.
Bagley, Carter and Duval scored Duke's last 20 points with four fouls, continuing to attack the rim and the boards aggressively. Duval—who was whistled for his second foul early in the first half for extending his arm into his defender as he went up for a layup—had three strong drives to the hoop for scores in the final five minutes after knocking down a 3-pointer to trim the Seminoles' lead from four points to one.
Duval assisted on the Blue Devils' other four made field goals in the last five minutes, his only four assists of the day. After accounting for just seven of Duke's 80 points in the first 35 minutes, he accounted for 17 of its last 20.
"He came in and played some in the first half with two. He played for quite a bit of time, but he played like he had two. I told him, 'You can’t do that. We’d rather not have you in the game,'" Krzyzewski said. "So he got his third and he got four. I said, 'You can’t play these last four minutes like you did the first half. You’ve got to play like you have no fouls and be a man. Be mature.' The best way to learn is through experience."
When the Blue Devils missed shots, Bagley and Carter did not shy away from the offensive glass in fear of fouling out. In fact, the duo helped expand Duke's rebounding advantage significantly after the break, combining to outrebound the Seminoles by themselves and grabbing 18 offensive rebounds.
Their hustle and strength against Florida State's smaller frontcourt led to 28 second-chance points for the Blue Devils.
"You’ve just got to be smart in a situation like that," Bagley said. "I’m not saying don’t play hard...but I just kept attacking, kept going for the boards, doing whatever I could to try to keep possessions alive for my team."
If any of the starters had fouled out, the Blue Devils could have been in deep trouble. Krzyzewski did not show much faith in his bench, which scored just three points in 29 combined minutes, though freshman Alex O'Connell was effective with the lone triple and a smooth drive to the baseline that led to an assist to Grayson Allen in the corner for a 3-pointer.
But if Duke's core of five can keep themselves on the court for lengthy stretches, the Blue Devils may not even need to develop any more crunch-time threats.