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FSU big men no match for Blue Devil zone

Duke’s effective use of both man-to-man and zone defenses limited Florida State’s production in the paint.
Duke’s effective use of both man-to-man and zone defenses limited Florida State’s production in the paint.

Confronted by one of the biggest and toughest front lines in the nation, the Blue Devils had to adapt to counter the Seminoles’ aggressive post play. And Wednesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 8 Duke’s defensive prowess led the team to its fifth win in the ACC.

The 70-56 Duke win was hardly easy, and the Blue Devils had to grind out the victory by switching between man and zone defenses to halt multiple Florida State rallies.

“This was the type of game where you’re playing at home and there’s almost more pressure on you,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We were a little bit hesitant, but after that our guys played with great character.”

After riding an 11-3 run into halftime, the Blue Devils were confident in both their offensive firepower and defensive sets. However, six minutes into the second half, Duke found itself struggling to keep a surging Florida State team at bay.

Led by the quick freshman guard Michael Snaer, the Seminoles went on a 12-0 streak to bring the game to within four just nine minutes into the second half. At that point, Krzyzewski knew he had to make a defensive alteration to change the flow of the game.

“We went orange [a zone defense inspired by Syracuse’s 2-3 zone] for about five exchanges and got four stops in a row,” Krzyzewski said. “When went to it at that moment, it worked—and we closed out the game.”

This move was the turning point in the game, as the Blue Devils transformed a dwindling four-point lead into a comfortable eight-point advantage in only two minutes.

Duke’s success with the zone defense stemmed from the makeup of the Seminole team. With a heavy reliance on post play, Florida State needed big performances from Chris Singleton, Xavier Gibson and Solomon Alabi to have a chance at defeating Duke. But by switching to the zone, the Blue Devils were able to cut off entry passes into the paint and effectively silence the Seminole big men in the second half. As evidence of the improved defensive effort, Alabi— Florida State’s leading scorer—totaled nine points in the first half, but only five in the second.

“[Florida State] has a lot of big guys and they know how to play,” center Brian Zoubek said. “They’re really aggressive­, especially on the boards. Alabi has a great touch and he played well, but I think we were able to a good job on him and their frontcourt.”

Once the Seminoles adjusted to attacking the zone, Duke switched back to man. The return to man-to-man defense slowed the Seminoles’ successful transition offense and reduced the number of easy baskets.  

“We ran the zone really well tonight,” Zoubek said. “We got some key stops and we were able to switch it up a bit to get them off their game. It’s what we do all the time, and it worked well against Florida State.”

This combination of defensive styles forced numerous Florida State mistakes, which the Blue Devils ultimately capitalized on to the tune of 22 points.

Florida State head coach captured it simply after the game: “Duke’s defense was good, no question,” he said.

The Blue Devils won the turnover battle as they have all season, and it continued to make a distinct difference in the outcome of the game. Florida State managed to shoot 43 percent from the field, matching the Blue Devils, but it was the plus-10 turnover differential that allowed the Blue Devils to cruise to a 14-point victory.

 “It wasn’t really a pretty game,” Kyle Singler said. “We had to grind it out and make big plays at the end of the game.”

With the size and depth of the Duke frontcourt, the Blue Devils will look to wear down opponents and secure wins for the remainder of the season.

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