TALLAHASSEE, FLA.—Yes, Duke played under the bright lights against Kentucky at Madison Square Garden and against Gonzaga in Vegas.
But this environment was different. It was the Blue Devils’ most raucous true road environment of the year thus far, and for Duke’s freshmen and sophomores—i.e. most of the roster—it was the biggest road test of their careers to this point.
Florida State entered the contest having won 83 of its last 88 home games dating back to the 2015-16 campaign, including 25 consecutive home ACC victories—the second-longest streak in conference history. The Tucker Center was buzzing all night long, with each big Seminole play eliciting some of the loudest roars you’ll ever hear at a basketball game.
And in the end, that home-court advantage proved too much for the young sixth-ranked Blue Devils to handle, with Florida State pulling off the huge 79-78 upset win in an overtime classic. Duke had a chance for a last-second shot to win the game, but Wendell Moore Jr.’s attempt was swatted away, and as the ball rolled down the floor and the seconds ticked down to zero, the Florida State students stormed the court to cement the night.
"Just a tremendous basketball game," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Great crowd, two teams that just played their hearts out."
With the game tied at 74 and less than 90 seconds to go in overtime, it was none other than Paolo Banchero with the ball in his hands. The Wooden Award candidate shimmied to his left and drove baseline, missing the layup but putting it back up and in to give Duke (14-3, 4-2 in the ACC) the two-point edge. Caleb Mills responded with a corner three to give the edge back to the Seminoles (11-5, 5-2) before Banchero drew a foul and sank two free throws to regain it right back for the Blue Devils with 36 seconds remaining. Right on cue in this back-and-forth thriller, however, RayQuan Evans drew a blocking foul on Jeremy Roach and sunk two more free throws to put the Seminoles ahead by one entering the final play.
With Duke trailing 63-55 and 4:29 remaining in regulation, Banchero decided to take matters into his own hands, receiving a pass from Roach on the right wing and calmly sinking a three to cut his team’s deficit to five. It was his first field goal attempt of the half, but one that went a long way in preventing the game from getting out of hand.
Just a few minutes later, Banchero put back his own dunk to pull Duke within four, before throwing up a perfectly-placed alley-oop to Mark Williams on the Blue Devils’ next possession to make it a one-possession game. Soon after, AJ Griffin tossed up a floater that fell through nothing but net, and all of a sudden the score was tied.
After Florida State missed a three, Banchero had the ball back in his hands with the game knotted at 65 and under a minute on the clock. The freshman star found Williams under the basket, with the latter bringing it down for just a half-second before rising back up and slamming home a dunk to put Duke ahead 67-65 with 30 seconds remaining.
The Blue Devils needed just one stop for the win, but it was a stop they couldn’t get. With less than five seconds to go in regulation, Evans drove to his right and tossed up a desperation layup. The ball promptly hit the backboard and fell through, sending the game into overtime and the crowd into an uproar.
"Evans made a really tough shot to tie the game, but that's what he does. He's a veteran...big time shot," Krzyzewski said.
While Duke led 38-33 entering halftime, Florida State immediately took control out of the break. Seven-foot-4 big man Naheem McLeod set the tone on the Seminoles’ first possession of the period, grabbing three straight offensive boards before slamming home an earth-shattering dunk to open the scoring.
Duke struggled to contain the Seminoles’ bigs all night—both inside the paint and outside of it. Florida State won the offensive rebounding battle 19-7, while 7-foot-1 big man John Butler burned the Blue Devils with three threes.
"It's something that we're working on, that we have to get better in," Krzyzewski said of defensive rebounding. "Defensive rebounds are the culmination of a good defensive exchange. Our defense was pretty good but when you give up shots afterwards, second and third shots, obviously that's not a thing you want to do."
The Seminoles didn’t stop there, scoring seven more consecutive points to surge ahead 42-38 by the 16:43 mark. Meanwhile, Duke missed 11 of its first 12 field goals to open the second half, with Florida State seemingly running away with the momentum. One of the main components of the Blue Devils’ inability to get anything going offensively was the disappearance of Banchero, who didn’t attempt a field goal for the first 15 minutes of the second half.
"I think some of the struggles was just they were denying and switching everything so it was in all the passing lanes, making it hard to the catch the ball, making us catch outside of where we wanted to start offense at," Banchero said of the team's offensive struggles early in the second half. "They put good pressure off the ball and then on the ball."
Banchero finished with a game-high 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, taking over at times but clearly struggling to get involved in the offense during others. This was exacerbated after Trevor Keels hurt his calf and had to exit the game with 10 minutes to go in regulation, with his status remaining questionable heading into Duke's contest against Syracuse Saturday at 12 p.m.
"We think it's not a knee, it's a calf injury, but we don't know the extent of it," Krzyzewski said.
Duke started out the game strong, converting on three of its first four field goal attempts to take an early 8-3 lead. But Florida State quickly clawed its way back, and the electric Tucker Center crowd seemed to rattle the young Blue Devils. Duke promptly turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, capped off by a Roach travel that brought both teams into the under-16 media timeout with the score tied at eight.
Turnovers served as the main culprit for Duke’s inability to pull away in the opening frame, as well as their struggles overall: The visiting squad shot 49.1% from the floor—including 43.5% from downtown—but committed 15 turnovers to Florida State’s five.
"I think that the crowd had an impact on how much harder Florida State played," Krzyzewski said. "Not that we were nervous or anything. I think just like in Cameron, when you're going, you're playing hard, and the crowd is going it makes you go harder. And Florida State's depth and their physicality—they played hard. It was tough to get entry passes, was tough to run plays against them."
The Blue Devils responded with a 6-0 run out of the media timeout, but the Seminoles punched right back with an 8-0 run of their own as the score continued to seesaw back and forth for the remainder of the half. A late 7-0 run handed Duke its five-point edge entering the final 20 minutes, but it was clear that this was a game that would go down to the wire.
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