Caulton Tudor - staff columnist
There were only 15 or so of them and they were wearing basketball uniforms, but some Florida State students stormed another court in jubilation Saturday.
This time it was Duke’s Coach K Court at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the Florida State players had to pull off the celebration without benefit of many fans.
A week earlier it was the court in the Seminoles’ Tucker Center at Tallahassee after a 90-57 win over North Carolina.
The decision over Duke (favored by 10) was much closer _ 76-73 on a lulu of a game-winning 3-pointer by Mike Snaer _ but the emotional charge was just as electric.
“It’s a great feeling, unreal in a way,” Snaer said. “You just don’t come in here and beat these guys many times.”
Not only did the Seminoles (13-6, 4-1 ACC) win, they moved squarely into position to win the conference regular season. Barring, that is, a return of the Seminole team that lost non-league games to Princeton, Harvard and Florida by 18 points.
Not only do the 4th-ranked Blue Devils (16-3, 4-1) have two athletic wars ahead against North Carolina, they have to go to Florida State for a return game.
UNC (16-3, 3-1) doesn’t have to play Florida State again, but has two games against N.C. State (14-5, 3-1) and two against No. 15 Virginia (15-2, 2-1) in addition to the Duke games.
The schedule couldn’t set up better for the Seminoles, who were picked in preseason to finish behind the Tar Heels and Duke.
“Florida State is just a tough, tough team to play,” Duke frontcourter Miles Plumlee said. “They’re big and long and physical, and they keep coming at you.”
Seminole coach Leonard Hamilton got impressive production from nine players against Duke.
After struggling inside early, FSU bigs Xavier Gibson, Bernard James, Okaro White and Jon Kreft were able to hurt Duke repeatedly in the second half.
“They’re men,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They can play with anybody. They’re just a veteran, confident team.
“We can get a lot better and we can only get better by playing games like this.”
But in the Devils’ dressing quarters, the loss cut deeply.
“I’m angry,” said freshman Austin Rivers. “Florida State can say all they want to about being better than Duke, but I don’t believe it.
“They’re good and they’re the oldest team in the conference. Veteran teams are always hard to beat in big games. They stick together, but we’re going to get better from this.”
Statistically, the Seminoles won on nothing more complicated than shooting _ 54 percent for the game and 50 percent on 3-point attempts. Duke shot 39.7 percent overall and 43.5 percent on threes.
After Seth Curry’s drive with 2:10 gave Duke a 69-67 lead, the Devils could not convert another field-goal attempt until Rivers scored with about seconds left to tie it at 73.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Rivers said. “This is the game we had been looking forward to all week. Coming out here to win, it would establish us as the top team in the ACC. Instead, it puts us even with Florida State and Carolina.”
But really, both the Devils and Heels are now playing catch-up to a school that of late celebrates more big basketball wins than football.