DURHAM, N.C.—Jon Scheyer’s floating jump shot sure seemed a lot like salvation Wednesday night for the Duke Blue Devils: After pushing their lead against the Florida State Seminoles to a game-high 16 points, the Devils froze on their home court, going without so much as a point for five minutes. Layups, free throws and steals by the Seminoles had trimmed the lead to four. What’s more, Lance Thomas picked up his third personal foul in that span; Kyle Singler, his fourth. Though the Seminoles had only three team fouls, Duke had already gathered nine, giving Florida State an early bonus with nearly nine minutes left. Duke’s big men weren’t scoring, and Schmingler wasn’t hitting, either.
But Scheyer, who led the Devils with 22 points en route to a 70-56 victory, stepped just under the arc and nailed a difficult shot under pressure. The team seemed to rebuild around the make. It certainly wasn’t a panacea for Duke—Scheyer, after all, turned it over as the shot clock expired 40 seconds later, and the Devils continued to struggle with mediocre shooting. After the crowd erupted with Scheyer’s hit, though, Duke’s lead wasn’t questioned for the next eight minutes.
“When it got down to 51-47 and they’re shooting free throws, it’s a game that, when you’re playing at home, there is almost more pressure on you,” explained Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, “because you can be a little hesitant.”
That swing in momentum came in part from a defensive shift by Duke: Coming out of a timeout, the Devils switched briefly from man-to-man defense to a zone. They took the ball away from Florida State the first time down the court, resulting in a Brian Zoubek put-back off of a Nolan Smith miss. Kyle Singler followed with a crucial three off of a Smith rebound and Scheyer assist, pushing the advantage back into double digits. Smith, who scored 11 points, missed another drive, but Lance Thomas sustained Duke’s push with a tap-in.
All the credit’s not due to the Devils, though: As good as Duke’s defense was (and Thomas, with his swim moves in the post, was often spectacular), Florida State gave itself fits, too, traveling early and often in the first half, shooting less than 50% from the charity stripe and turning it over 22 times. And when the Devils went cold, the Seminoles weren’t exactly perfect. They failed to score on a series of four offensive rebounds just before that Scheyer jumper, and they missed multiple lay-ups. Duke continued to control Seminole scorers Chris Singleton and Solomon Alabi. In short, they couldn’t climb through what, with Duke, is generally a limited window of opportunity.
“We played like a freshman/sophomore team,” said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. “You have to give [Duke] credit for that.”
Duke’s win comes in the middle of a difficult stretch: A week ago, the Devils failed to nab their first road success in Raleigh versus N.C. State, though they did pick up that crucial away victory Saturday versus the Clemson Tigers in a scrappy, low-scoring battle. Tonight, they travel to Washington, D.C. for an afternoon game against No. 11 Georgetown Saturday before meeting Georgia Tech, who beat the Devils in Georgia earlier this month, in Durham next Thursday.
“It’s a good game for our young guys to step forward and have an opportunity to be more of a part of the actual win and not just the preparation of a win,” Krzyzewski said of Saturday’s upcoming contest. “It’s not going to be an easy game.”
Florida State, who have now dropped three of their last five outings and have slid from 18th to 26th place in a little over two weeks, head to Boston College Saturday before returning to Tallahassee to meet Maryland and Miami.