Updated 10:52 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Its stride getting stronger and more confident by the game, Duke is moving ever closer to one of its goals.
The Blue Devils subdued Florida State 74-66 on Thursday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center, taking another step toward the ACC regular season championship by making 13 3-pointers against a Seminoles team that entered the game having only allowed opponents to shoot 29.1 percent for 3-point attempts on the season.
Andre Dawkins made six 3-pointers to lead the Blue Devils with 22 points while Austin Rivers made four and finished with 20 points.
With the win, No. 5 Duke (24-4, 11-2) moved into a tie with North Carolina (24-4, 11-2) at the top of the ACC standings, although the Blue Devils hold the tie-breaking edge by virtue of their win in Chapel Hill. The teams play each other on March 3 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I thought tonight was a big game for us,” said Rivers, who crashed into an advertising display in the second half and briefly had to leave the game. “I think guys really stepped up. It shows how tough of a team we are – right now, we’re building. Each game we’re getting better.”
Duke demonstrated how it has improved by methodically grinding down the Seminoles.
Employing as physical a defense as it has at any point this season, the Blue Devils wore out Florida State, which is no mean feat considering the Seminoles’ overall size and muscle.
In the first meeting of the season between the schools, Florida State made 66.7 percent of its shots in the second half to lift it to a 76-73 victory. This time around, the No. 15 Seminoles (19-8, 10-3) made only 39.7 percent of their shots and 26.7 percent of their 3-pointers.
Other than Michael Snaer (18 points) and Bernard James (13 points), few Seminoles found a groove on the offensive end. Duke’s big men ran into foul trouble – Miles Plumlee fouled out while Mason Plumlee finished with four fouls and Ryan Kelly with three – but the physical nature of the game paid dividends for Duke.
“I thought Duke’s defensive pressure kept us out of any offensive rhythm that we’re used to getting,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.
The Blue Devils have been at their best in road games this ACC season, posting an undefeated 7-0 record. If Duke can win at Wake Forest on Tuesday, it will be the first Blue Devils team not to lose away from Cameron in conference since the 1999-2000 squad.
Even if his team has seemed especially strong away from home, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t see a difference in the way it plays on the road.
“We’ve won 24 games, so we’ve been pretty good everywhere,” Krzyzewski said. ”I’m proud of our guys. People want to nitpick about this team, but this team has done an unbelievable job and we’re getting better. We’re not great, but we’re getting better.”
Of the 13 3-pointers Duke hit – the Blue Devils only had nine field goals from inside the arc – two stood out for their significance.
Florida State was doing its best to rally late in the game, having turned what was once a 53-40 Duke lead after a Dawkins 3-pointer with 14:05 remaining into a 58-55 Blue Devils edge after Xavier Gibson made a layup with 4:56 to go.
Rivers penetrated and found Kelly in the corner. Kelly buried the 3-pointer, pushing Duke’s lead back to six.
“The kick to Ryan was one of the big plays in the game,” Krzyzewski said. “It was a strong move."
After Bernard James made a conventional three-point play on the other end, Seth Curry then knocked another 3-pointer to push Duke’s lead back to six, 64-58.
Try as the Seminoles might, they could never cause Duke to lose its footing the rest of the way – the contest was never a single-possession game the rest of the way.
“It was a win we had to have to obtain the goal of being a champion,” Kelly said. “It’s a step we had to make, and it was big to do it on the road like we did tonight.”