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Loucks carries Florida State to the ACC championship

Austin River heaves a three-point shot in the closing minute of the ACC semi finals.
Austin River heaves a three-point shot in the closing minute of the ACC semi finals.

ATLANTA – Luke Loucks is Florida State's sixth-leading scorer. Yet as the clock ticked towards the 12 second mark, with an ACC championship appearance on the line, the Seminole coaching staff put the ball in the senior point guard’s hands.

Power forward Bernard James came up from the post and set a ball screen for Loucks, hoping to create a defensive mismatch given Duke’s tendency to aggressively switch on screens.

“We thought they were going to switch,” Loucks said after the game, “and they did.”

That left Loucks guarded by Josh Hairston, who kept his distance, allowing the Seminole point guard to sink a jump shot and put his team up 62-59. Although Duke would get two more chances to tie the game, but both opportunities fell short, giving Florida State a three-point victory at Philips Arena that sent the Seminoles on to face North Carolina in the ACC title game Sunday.

“We needed one stop,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and we just couldn’t get that stop. They executed, and we didn’t stop.”

After Loucks’ make with 12 seconds remaining, Duke came out of a timeout looking to even the score. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski opted not to draw up a specific play, given that his team had to get the ball the length of the floor against a Florida State press before even thinking about scoring.

“You’re trying to make a read,” Krzyzewski said. “We had our shooters on the wings, if they were left open. If we could’ve gone all the way right away, we would’ve taken a two.”

The ball ended up in the hands of Austin Rivers with eight seconds left, in much the same spot on the floor where he had made his miraculous game-winner Feb. 8 in Chapel Hill. The Seminoles were well aware of his heroics and guarded him closely—so closely, in fact, that Rivers’ shot fake right after catching the ball worked perfectly to get his defender airborne.

Rivers did not recognize the success of his fake until it was too late, though, and by the time he hoisted a shot in hopes of getting fouled, the defense had recovered and adjusted appropriately. The awkward shot sailed wide, and Florida State rebounded it and called timeout. Excellent defense on the ensuing inbounds pass forced Seminole guard Jeff Peterson to throw a desperation heave to midcourt, and Tyler Thornton penetrated the scrum, tipping the ball to a wide-open Seth Curry.

Curry had time to set himself and throw up a 35-foot heave with a good look at the basket.

“To be quite frank,” Krzyzewski said, “I thought Seth’s shot was going in.”

The ball clipped the front of the rim, though, and rebounded up and off the backboard before falling harmlessly to the floor.

“A few of us got a piece of [the pass,” Loucks said. “And then all of a sudden, Curry has the ball shooting a pretty nice look from half-court. It was like the longest three seconds of my life watching that ball travel through the air. I thought it was going in.”

That moment, however, was just the culmination of a physical, hard-fought battle that saw 10 lead changes.

“It was not an X and O game today,” Krzyzewski said. “It was an effort game.”

Florida State’s length and athleticism on defense caused problems for the Blue Devils in the first half, as Duke committed its 13th turnover after barely more than 15 minutes of play. Mason Plumlee, Rivers and Curry each contributed three giveaways to the team total of 14 in the first half.

Duke made up for the turnovers by working tirelessly on the boards, outrebounding the bigger Seminoles 18-12 before halftime. With 4-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc, the Blue Devils found themselves down just two points going into the locker room despite their sloppiness with the ball.

Those trends were reversed in the second half, though. Duke committed just two turnovers in the second half, but Florida State imposed its will inside, scoring 20 of its 29 second-half points in the paint, pulling down 10 offensive rebounds and beating the Blue Devils 22-12 on the glass.

James and Okaro White each had seven rebounds for the Seminoles while point guard Loucks even added six boards. Behind the inside efforts, Florida State was able to extend several possessions beyond the 35-second shot clock.

Junior Michael Snaer—who Krzyzewski called “the best competitor in our league”—led Florida State in scoring with 16 points and dished out six assists, which he supplemented with excellent defense on several different Duke players.

Snaer was not the only player to have his hard work praised by the coaches, though, as Krzyzewski and Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton lauded the efforts of both teams.

“Both teams played their hearts out,” Krzyzewski said. “I think both teams were deserving of winning today. And if you lose, that’s the kind of effort I want from my team.”

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