TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida State men’s basketball team had beaten Duke before, exactly nine times since the two first met in 1955.
Some of those wins were among the most memorable and momentous in program history – upsets that stunned the college basketball world or close victories that sparked the Seminoles to big things later in the season.
None of those nine wins, however, were anything like the 10th.
Because what happened here at the Donald L. Tucker Center on Tuesday night wasn’t an upset. It wasn’t a fluke. And, truth be told, it wasn’t all that surprising to anyone who has been following the Seminoles this season.
No. 9 Florida State routed No. 7 Duke, 88-72 and, on this night at least, the gap between the two teams was as wide as the final score indicates.
Now 16-1 on the season and winners of a school-record 12 straight games, the Seminoles have evolved from a nice team on a hot start into one of the major stories in college basketball.
And they’ll have an opportunity to make yet another statement when they visit No. 11 North Carolina on Saturday.
“We knew we could win the game,” sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon said. “We just came out and played a regular game. A lot of people were hyping it up because Duke is Duke, but we’re comfortable with our team. We know what we can do.”
Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Florida State’s effort on Tuesday night is how normal it looked.
The Seminoles beat the Blue Devils the same way they’ve beaten almost every other opponent this season – with unselfish attitudes spread across depth that so far has been unmatched in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For the second straight game, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton used 12 different players, 10 of whom scored at least two points.
Junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes paced the Seminoles with 21 points – 18 in the second half – while Bacon and sophomore Terance Mann each added 13 points.
Only five Seminoles – Bacon, Rathan-Mayes, Mann, Jarquez Smith and Jonathan Isaac – played at least 20 minutes, and only Bacon played more than 30.
Meanwhile Duke, already shorthanded in the absence of star forward Amile Jefferson, started to crack midway through the second half. The Blue Devils rarely strayed from a seven-man rotation. Guard Luke Kennard never left the floor, while forward Jayson Tatum and guard Grayson Allen played 38 and 36 minutes respectively.
With FSU constantly sending waves of fresh reinforcements, the Seminoles stretched a four-point halftime lead to double-digits midway through the second half.
After the game, interim Duke coach Jeff Capel was asked if the Seminoles’ depth made them hard to scout. But Capel, filling in while Mike Krzyzewski recovers from back surgery, said the answer is much simpler than that.
“What makes them hard to prepare for is how good they are,” Capel said. “No matter what you do, you can’t simulate that in a practice. We can’t simulate their athleticism, their length, the relentless pressure they constantly put on you, and then the waves of guys they bring in. You can’t simulate that. That’s what makes it hard.”
A rowdy home crowd that ranked among the best of the Hamilton era didn’t make things any easier for the Blue Devils.
An announced attendance of 11,675 – many of whom were in their seats 45 minutes before the 8 p.m. tip – created a thick energy in the Tucker Center, standing and cheering after dunks and blocks, and making sure to boo Duke’s Allen every time he touched the ball.
Yes, every single time.
“I thought (the atmosphere) was extremely motivating for our players,” Hamilton said. “You’d like to see this every night. This is a little dose of the same medicine we get when we go and play at every arena in the ACC. … We’re just fortunate to create that same atmosphere here in Tallahassee, and hopefully that’s something that will continue to grow.”
The Seminoles steadily added to their lead in the second half, using several highlight reel-worthy passes and dunks to add some style points.
When Isaac finished off an alley-oop feed from Rathan-Mayes, Capel sat down and the Duke bench reflected what everyone in the crowd had sensed: this one was over.
The Seminoles led by as much as 17 with about a minute to go in the game. Their 16-point margin of victory was their largest ever over Duke (the previous was five, on multiple occasions) and their third-biggest win over a top-10 team.
By the time the clock ran out, FSU had topped Duke in shooting percentage (53.0-41.1), 3-point percentage (35.7-29.2), rebounding (38-30), points in the paint (56-28), second-chance points (19-7), fast-break points (13-4) and points off of turnovers (22-12).
And, of course, bench points, where the Seminoles outscored the Blue Devils 21-4.
“We’ve got a deep, deep team,” Bacon said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can do so many different things with the ball. We keep playing and keep winning.”
Florida State is 4-0 in ACC play for the first time ever and thus far has made quick work of a supposed gauntlet of six straight games against ranked teams.
Through the first three of that stretch – against No. 11 Virginia, No. 21 Virginia Tech and No. 7 Duke – the Seminoles are 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 11 points.
FSU will next hit the road Saturday for a visit to Chapel Hill, N.C., where it will look for its first win over UNC at the Dean Smith Center since 2010.
“We’ve got to keep playing to each other, keep playing with our confidence,” Bacon said. “Keep playing as a team, unselfish, have one another’s back.
“Just keep playing like we’ve been playing all year and we’ll be fine.”