TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—All season long, the brightest lights of sports media have shined on Zion Williamson. But with an eye injury late in the first half sidelining arguably Duke's biggest star, the Blue Devils turned to a resurgent five-star to be the hero.
No. 1 Duke took down No. 13 Florida State 80-78 Saturday afternoon at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center thanks to a wide-open game-winning 3-pointer from the wing with 0.8 seconds left by freshman Cam Reddish. R.J. Barrett and Reddish combined for 55 points on 19-of-34 shooting, and despite hardships late in the first half and early in the second half, the Blue Devils never stopped battling to get the win.
"Thank you God. That was it," Reddish said of his final shot. "That’s all that went through my head."
Down by one with a just four minutes left to play, Reddish nailed a 3-pointer to claw the visiting team back on top. Although Tre Jones had the chance to widen Duke's lead with a one-and-one, the freshman bricked the front end to give the Seminoles the ball back. Poor free throw shooting haunted the Blue Devils all night, with Duke making just 60.0 percent of its shots from the line.
Trent Forrest was the next to strike for Florida State, briefly knotting the score. However, Barrett responded with a stepback jumper of his own to keep Duke (14-1, 3-0 in the ACC) out on top. Two free throws by Mfiondu Kabengele tied it up again, and a poor dribble from Reddish out of bounds gave the ball back to the Seminoles. Then, after 29 seconds of lockdown defense, a last-second whistle on Reddish put P.J. Savoy at the line for three shots, and the guard knocked down two of them to take a 78-76 lead.
Barrett drove the lane to draw a foul and made his first free throw with 5.1 seconds left, but missed the second, and the rebound went out of bounds off Florida State (13-3, 1-2) to give Reddish the last shot coming off a screen by Jack White and an inbounds pass from Jones.
“We knew they were going to try and not let R.J. get the ball,” Jones said. “We set it up so if R.J. came up and wasn’t open, Cam was coming off as well. He had a great look and was able to execute.”
Without Williamson, the Blue Devils had to rely on other weapons coming out of the locker room. Reddish looked like his past slump was completely behind him, knocking down five triples and notching 23 points through the contest. Meanwhile, Barrett put up one of his strongest shooting performances of the season.
“R.J.’s a great player,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “A lot is said about Zion, and should be said, but R.J.’s as good a player as there is in the country and competitor. He and Zion are like brothers, so I think he even put it up a notch with Zion being out. There are so many cool things when you’re around young people, and when you get older like me, to be around people is cool. But Zion’s reaction in the locker room after the game, he’s almost crying.... He was so happy for his guys that he was that emotional.”
Unfortunately for the visiting team, Williamson’s presence in the paint was sorely missed, leading to the Seminoles clobbering the Blue Devils with 10 dunks. To make matters worse, Duke’s role players, previously the difference-makers when it needed a spark, struggled to produce when the Blue Devils needed them most. Duke only found six points off the bench, with uncharacteristically poor shooting from White costing the Blue Devils key opportunities.
Phil Cofer, who had missed a majority of the season so far due to injury, made his presence known against the Blue Devils, pouring in 21 points and seven rebounds. Kabengele added 24 points and 10 boards.
Through the first half, the Blue Devils uncharacteristically struggled to finish in the paint. Although Duke ended the half with 22 points down low, the Blue Devils were held to 16-for-40 shooting from the field and struggled to match the Seminoles’ rebounding.
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Williamson, normally a freight train barreling through opponents’ backline defenses, was held to just 50.0 percent shooting in the opening period. Although the Spartanburg, S.C., native more than made up for it in terms of rebounding and second-chance points, the Seminoles’ 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje and Kabengele made life especially hard for the young Blue Devil. After a blow to the face sidelined Williamson for the rest of the game with double vision, Florida State used the opening to go on an 8-0 run in the final minutes of the half to take the lead heading into the locker room.
Duke will continue its ACC campaign back at home against Syracuse Monday.
“In our first [ACC] game against Clemson, we were playing a team that returned four starters from the Sweet 16,” Krzyzewski said. “We play [Florida State], they were in the Elite Eight and they had most of their guys back. Monday we’ll play Syracuse, they’re Sweet 16... We’re playing old teams, veteran teams. When you have a league that has that, it’s pretty difficult.”