DURHAM, N.C. – The Florida State men’s basketball team knows it can beat Duke – the Seminoles did just that in an 88-72 rout of the Blue Devils in Tallahassee on Jan. 10.
And, after winning at Clemson last week, the Seminoles were reminded that they can, in fact, be successful on the road.
So then the next step is to beat Duke in Durham, N.C., where Florida State hasn’t won since 2012.
No. 15 FSU will look to conquer Cameron Indoor Stadium and sweep the Blue Devils for the first time in school history on Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and ESPN will televise the game.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said the Seminoles can expect a different Duke team than the one they throttled in Tallahassee last month. For one thing, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski is back on the bench after missing several games, including Duke’s visit to FSU, while recovering from back surgery.
Hamilton also believes that senior Amlle Jefferson, who missed the first meeting with a foot injury, will play. Jefferson and standout Grayson Allen (ankle) are listed as game-time decisions.
“(The Blue Devils) are playing with such an extreme amount of confidence and poise,” Hamilton said. “They play with a looseness, a confidence level where they just are who they are. They always seem to have guys who are playing within themselves. They’re extremely confident.”
But so, too, is FSU after a close victory at Clemson that saw the Seminoles vanquish some of the struggles that have nagged at them on the road this season.
FSU survived several Clemson surges and had an answer every time the Tigers threatened to take control of the game.
The Seminoles shot well from the free-throw line, took care of the ball and stayed within their game plan even as things got hectic in the game’s waning moments.
It was that, as much as anything on the scoreboard, that had Hamilton feeling good afterward.
“Every time we got in a hole against Clemson, I thought our guys regrouped and responded properly,” he said. “We didn’t panic. The look in their eyes was extremely confident. That was somewhat encouraging.”
Added junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes: “Just to be able to get a win in the environment we did last game, I thought it was really good for us, it kind of boosted our confidence. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you (only) beat Clemson by two,’ but it’s tough to win on the road. There’s a lot of teams that have gone in there and struggled.”
Winning at Duke is significant in and of itself, but a victory would carry more weight than usual for the Seminoles.
FSU is currently tied with Louisville and Notre Dame for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and is entrenched in the race for a top-four seed in next week’s ACC tournament.
The top four regular-season finishers receive a double-bye in the tournament and start in the bracket’s quarterfinals. A win in Durham could clinch a top-four finish for FSU.
“It’s extremely fun to have gone through what we’ve gone through this year,” Rathan-Mayes said, “to put ourselves in the position we have.”
FSU, however, will be in a difficult position on Tuesday.
The Blue Devils are 14-1 at home this season, and Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the most notoriously difficult venues in college basketball.
Hamilton, however, believes that has far more to do with the people in Duke’s program than anything involving the building.
“It’s not as much Cameron as it is they’ve got the winningest coach in the history of college basketball sitting on the bench,” Hamilton said. “And they normally have at least 10 McDonald’s All-Americans on the court. That’s a tough combination. And I think it would be equally tough playing against them in (FSU’s) Tully (Gym) or if we’re playing in Cameron. It’s not Cameron. It’s the great coaching job, the great system they have in place and they very talented players they have on the bench.
“Once the game starts, no one is going to run out of the stands and get a steal or block a shot.”