With its first true road win now under its belt, No. 5 Duke (18-2, 5-2 in the ACC) will attempt to earn its second straight victory away from Cameron Indoor Stadium, as it travels south to take on Florida State Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Donald L. Tucker Center.
The Seminoles (12-8, 4-3 in the ACC) currently sit tied for fifth in the league with North Carolina. Last year’s ACC tournament champs—who defeated traditional conference juggernauts Duke and North Carolina twice each last season—enter Saturday’s clash with the Blue Devils on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble. Losing to every ranked team on its schedule so far this year, Florida State needs to beat Duke to have any hope of receiving an at large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Seminoles’ best player, senior guard Michael Snaer, knows how much is riding on this weekend’s game.
“That’s a must-win for us,” Snaer told the Orlando Sentinel in regards to the Duke game following his team’s win against Maryland Wednesday night.
Despite the underwhelming season so far, there is reason to believe the Seminoles—a team that typically gets better as the season wears on—might be able to pull off the upset and earn the much-needed victory. Beating head coach Leonard Hamilton’s gritty squads has been quite challenging for Duke in recent years. The Seminoles were 2-1 against the Blue Devils last season with wins coming in Durham and in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. In the 2010-11 season, Florida State beat Duke 66-61 in Tallahassee, which was their only meeting that year.
Furthermore, this Duke team has been vulnerable since losing starting big man Ryan Kelly and is still trying to find its groove.
Blue Devil fans should be nervous if the game comes down to the wire. Snaer, a preseason All-ACC selection, has consistently delivered for the Seminoles with the game on the line. As the team’s leader and backbone, he has been one of the most clutch players in college basketball over the past two seasons. The hard-nosed, 6-foot-5 shooting guard has hit four game-winning shots in the past two seasons during ACC play.
The most recent case of Snaer’s late-game heroics came Wednesday night against Maryland. Snaer’s three-point dagger with 1.1 seconds left allowed the Seminoles to defeat the visiting Terrapins 73-71 for the second time this season. The victory gives them some momentum heading into Saturday, something Hamilton’s club has struggled to garner this season.
A victim of a Snaer game-winner itself, Duke is well aware of what he is capable of in high-pressure moments. Last season, he nailed a three-pointer as time expired in Cameron Indoor Stadium to hand Duke its first home loss since 2009.
On the bright side for the Blue Devils, the Seminoles’ have struggled mightily to put points on the board as of late. Florida State has averaged just 58.3 points per game in its last three outings, which is well below its season average of 69 points per contest.
Aside from Snaer, Okaro White is the team’s only other player averaging double figures in scoring. The 6-foot-8 junior forward tallies 12.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest.
After losing Bernard James and Xavier Gibson to graduation, the Seminole frontcourt is much less imposing than it was a year ago.
To make matters worse and further contribute to the recent lack of offensive production from Florida State’s post players, the team is playing without forward Terrence Shannon. The 6-foot-8 big man—who is referred to as the team’s “dirty-work guy” by Hamilton—has not played in the last three games due to a neck injury that may keep him out for the rest of the year. Shannon had been averaging 8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game before the injury.
Defensively, even without Shannon, the Seminole bigs put forth perhaps their best defensive effort of the year against Maryland, holding potential NBA lottery pick Alex Len to 4 points and 5 rebounds.
A similar performance will be needed if Florida State hopes to slow down Duke senior center Mason Plumlee, who is coming off a career-high 32 points to lead the Blue Devils over an upstart Wake Forest team Wednesday night. Otherwise, Hamilton’s squad, which has made the NCAA tournament four-straight years, will almost certainly be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.