In many ways, Florida State was the final rung in Duke’s incredibly daunting ACC ladder.
Coming off of three tough road contests and getting just one day of rest before taking on the eighth-ranked Seminoles, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils needed a monumental level of grit to come out of the stretch unscathed.
And despite the odds, the Blue Devils fought through all forms of adversity, earning a win against one of the most physical teams in the nation Monday evening.
Duke took down Florida State 70-65 in a tough-as-nails battle in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Despite Florida State’s highly physical defense, unlikely heroes from the Blue Devils paved the way.
"I’ve got good guys, man. I’ve got really good kids," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We beat a heck of a team tonight after beating a heck of a team in an epic game 48 hours before. I don’t know where they got the energy the whole game to do this, but they did and they listened and they fought... That last 8:29, we were terrific. We were not tired, they talked, they made plays."
Freshman Matthew Hurt struggled just days before against North Carolina, notching four fouls early and finding himself riding the pine for much of Saturday evening. But even being relegated to a relief role hardly fazed the Rochester, Minn., native, as the young Blue Devil came out with a fire and stayed clutch right to the end.
After Malik Osborne grabbed a blocked shot and skied for a dunk to trim the Blue Devils' lead to three, Hurt made it count on every trip to the line as the Seminoles fought for possession through fouling. Although the freshman made his first two makes from the charity stripe, the Blue Devils failed to deny the Seminoles another trip to the rack and whiffed the ensuing offensive possession with a last-second Wendell Moore hurl off the rim.
However, rather than letting the visiting team off the hook with a chance to tie the game, Hurt skied through two of Florida State's bigs, grabbing the game-sealing rebound and drawing a foul to win the evening. The freshman ended the evening with a spectacular display overall. Hurt heated up with back-to-back threes in the first half and got Cameron on its feet early with a block to preserve a 10-point advantage.
"People call me a shooter, a scorer, but I want to be more than that," Hurt said. "I want the dirty plays, the dirty work, the rebounds, the deflections, all of that. I'm just trying to make winning plays."
Vernon Carey Jr. wasn’t able to stay as productive down the stretch due to Florida State’s towering interior, but the Blue Devils (21-3, 11-2 in the ACC) had another big they could lean on.
Senior captain Javin DeLaurier has spent most of his Duke career as an energetic role player off the bench, but in the thick of one of the most important conference games of the season, the Shipman, Va., native delivered.
DeLaurier ferociously rebounded every Florida State miss late, grabbing any board he could to take away Seminole opportunities. The senior captain made arguably his biggest impact of the night, however, at the free throw line. With Duke holding on to a meager three-point lead in the final minute of play, DeLaurier was fouled after grabbing a crucial board. However, despite his 66.7 percentage from the line on the season, DeLaurier sank both to all but ensure victory.
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The Blue Devils knew they were in for a dogfight against the energetic Seminoles, and Duke needed all hands on deck to stay afloat.
Duke's first unlikely hero was Jordan Goldwire, a defensive specialist who caught an incredibly hot hand offensively to save a floundering Blue Devil offense.
Star point guard Tre Jones was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball at the start of the second half, with three inbounds passes landing in the hands of Florida State (20-4, 10-3). Although Duke's defense remained stout enough to limit the visiting team's points off of turnovers, the Blue Devil offense looked dead in the water for the opening minutes of play.
Luckily for Duke, Goldwire was unfazed.
The junior point guard ignited the Blue Devil offense with back-to-back triples, giving Duke's stagnating offense a much-needed lift. However, just as Duke created an inch of space, the Seminoles would turn up the pressure to stay in the mix.
Alex O'Connell was the next Blue Devil to catch fire down the stretch.
As both teams traded blows in the waning minutes of the game, O'Connell showcased the quickness and offensive finesse Duke has been craving from the junior shooter all season. Saving a play on a fadeaway two, O'Connell came alive moments later with a corner three to stabilize a Blue Devil lead.
"It felt good. They were big-time shots," O'Connell said. "Especially playing a team like Florida State, I tried to stay in space and be ready to shoot. Making sure to move their defense was a big thing for us, and we did that down the stretch."
Florida State’s Trent Forrest lived with free real estate in the heads of Jones and Goldwire, notching eight steals and converting each takeaway with attempted fast-break buckets. The senior guard made short work of the Blue Devils on both ends of the floor, contributing 18 points to electrify an otherwise cold-shooting Seminole squad.
After the three-game road stretch over the last two weeks, the Blue Devils will enjoy some time in Durham, hosting Notre Dame Saturday in Cameron.
"We need a full day off," Krzyzewski said. "This is a nine day period with three road games and this game, and our kids won all four of them. It’s a lot of travel, a lot of stuff. They’ve really developed into a good team. I really love these guys because they’re different guys. We don’t have a starting lineup, we have a team. Sometimes when you have a starting lineup you put a ceiling on your other guys, but we don’t have that with this group."