Duke's Austin Rivers forces a final shot attempt to tie the game in the waning seconds against Florida State. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated 7:48 p.m.
ATLANTA – Austin Rivers rued the fact he didn’t do exactly what he planned when he had the chance to send Duke’s semifinal against Florida State to overtime.
Seth Curry didn’t have time to think through what he wanted to do with his desperation attempt at the buzzer.
Either way, Duke’s top perimeter scorers missed 3-point heaves in the final seconds, allowing Florida State to eke past the Blue Devils for a 62-59 victory. The third-seeded Seminoles (23-9) will face top-seeded North Carolina (29-4) in Sunday’s championship.
Second-seeded Duke (27-6) had won three straight ACC titles before falling short in the second of two competitive semifinals at Philips Arena.
“It’s not fun to come here and lose,” Curry said. “The goal is to come here and win three games, and we didn’t do that.”
The Blue Devils and Seminoles had split their regular-season series, with both teams winning on each other’s home court in nip-and-tuck affairs that were two of the best games that Duke played in all year.
So it wasn’t a surprise that Saturday’s game came down to the final possession.
Rivers set up the final moments when he got to the basket with a strong drive, laying the ball in with 42.6 seconds left to cut the Seminoles’ lead to one point, 60-59.
After a Blue Devils timeout, Florida State put the ball in Luke Loucks’ hands. The senior dribbled the ball for a while up top against Curry before calling for a screen. Duke’s Josh Hairston switched onto Loucks after that screen, and Loucks took advantage of the mismatch in agility by pulling up for a long jumper that put FSU up 62-59 with 11.9 seconds left.
Duke called timeout and got the ball to Rivers, who dribbled forward to the right wing in front of the Blue Devils’ bench. With the 6-foot-5 Michael Snaer guarding him, Rivers pump-faked before pivoting. Snaer put his hands up, obstructing Rivers’ view of the basket.
“After I backed off, instead of pump-faking, if I would have took a dribble and then did the same shot I always do, I could have had a good chance of making it,” said Rivers, who led Duke’s players with 17 points.
Without his dribble, Rivers threw up a 3-pointer with 5 or 6 seconds left on the game clock that had little chance.
“I had a good look,” Rivers said. “Instead of taking my time, I just rushed it a little bit.
"But you live and you learn a little bit.”
The Seminoles got the rebound, but their inbound pass was a careless lob toward center court. After a deflection by Tyler Thornton, Curry picked the ball up and stepped twice before letting fly with a running 3-pointer from a couple of paces inside the half-court line.
Despite the improbable circumstances, the shot nearly fell.
“I had a pretty good look at it,” said Curry, who finished with 13 points. “I got as close as I could, and I thought it was going to be good. It was right on the rim.”
Curry slammed both hands against the scorer’s table after the shot missed, and many of Duke’s players took the loss hard. None of them had ever lost in the ACC tournament.
“This will help us because the feeling in the locker room is one of sorrow and frustration,” Rivers said.
Still, the Blue Devils cannot be completely discouraged by the defeat and the weekend in Atlanta.
With Ryan Kelly missing because of a sprained right foot, Duke played strong defense in both of its games, only allowing Virginia Tech and Florida State to shoot a combined 36.3 percent for the floor.
The difference Saturday was just one possession.
“I came out proud of our guys,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They played winning basketball, and when you lose playing winning basketball, just shake hands and thank God that there is at least one more game ahead.”