TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For exactly 39 minutes and 57.4 seconds, Florida State was good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the country.
But in those remaining 2.6 seconds, the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils issued a devastating reminder of just how good they can be.
With the Seminoles clinging to a one-point advantage and a packed-to-the-gills Donald L. Tucker Center on its feet, Duke freshman Cam Reddish caught a clean inbounds pass at the elbow and drained a 3-pointer that lifted the Blue Devils to an 80-78 escape over No. 13 Florida State.
The Seminoles (13-3, 1-2 ACC) had 0.9 seconds to get down the floor for a desperate shot, but a long pass was deflected out of bounds as time expired.
“You don’t want to take any moral victories away,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We had a chance, and we got beat by a team that played a little better than we did. They deserved to win.”
“We felt very fortunate to win, but I thought we earned it,” Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski added. “If (FSU) had won, they would have earned it. …
“It’s not a game that somebody lost. It’s a game that somebody won. Those are the great games.”
Without the benefit of film review, no one at Florida State could yet explain quite how Reddish got such an open look at the basket.
It might have been a miscommunication between defenders.
It might have been a perfectly designed play by one of the sport’s greatest coaches of all time.
Either way, Reddish – a freshman but also the nation’s No. 3 overall recruit for the class of 2018 – stepped up and launched a shot that didn’t even touch the rim.
“It was kind of like a misdirection,” junior guard Trent Forrest said. “We were doing our jobs, but somehow we just lost Cam Reddish.”
“I didn’t expect them to get the ball at the elbow,” Hamilton added, noting that he had 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje guarding the in-bounds pass.
“I thought we had that covered.”
Reddish’s winner put a sour finish on what was otherwise a showcase afternoon for Florida State basketball.
The game was announced sell-out on Monday, and Florida State fans tailgated in the Tucker Center parking lot hours before the 2 p.m. tip.
And when P.J. Savoy made a 3-pointer with time running out in the first half – erasing an early 10-point deficit and giving the Seminoles a 39-38 lead at the break – the arena erupted as if Florida State had already won.
Never mind that there were still 20 minutes to play.
“This team (Florida State) can beat anybody that we play,” Krzyzewski said. “And if they have a crowd like that for their home games, that will help them. That will help them.”
From there, the two teams traded blows in what Krzyzewski called “an amazing basketball game.”
The lead changed hands nine times during the second half, with neither team ever trailing by more than five points.
Mfiondu Kabengele scored 13 of his career high-tying 24 points during the final 20 minutes, and he added 10 rebounds for his third career double-double.
Fifth-year senior Phil Cofer, who scored 28 at Duke (14-1, 3-0) a year ago, followed up that performance with 21 points and seven boards. Terance Mann scored nine and Savoy 10, including two free throws that gave FSU a 78-76 advantage with 15 seconds to play.
“Mann and Cofer are such good leaders for them,” Krzyzewski said. “Kabengele was big-time today.”
But so, too, were Duke freshmen Reddish and R.J. Barrett.
With fellow first-year star Zion Williamson sidelined by an eye injury (himself off to a hot start before leaving late in the first half), Reddish and Barrett combined to score 35 of Duke’s 42 points in the second half.
Barrett scored 32 points, was 10 of 19 from the floor and was 4 of 7 from 3-point range – Krzyzewski suggested that Reddish got open for that last shot because the Seminoles’ defenders were understandably focused on Barrett.
And, despite entering the game as 65-percent free-throw shooter, Barrett also made 8 of 9 from the line.
Ironically, his only miss set up Duke’s game-winner.
After Savoy put FSU on top, Barrett drove to the basket and was fouled by FSU’s Mann. He made the first, and, had he made the second, the Seminoles would have had the ball and five seconds to either win the game or at least ensure overtime.
Instead, Barrett’s second attempt missed and a wild scramble for the rebound led to possession for Duke.
Officials first ruled in favor of Florida State, saying that the ball deflected off a Duke player on its way out of bounds. But a lengthy video review reversed the call.
Krzyzewski and Hamilton then traded timeouts, creating a tense atmosphere inside the arena as several minutes passed between plays.
After the game, Krzyzewski admitted that he changed his inbounds strategy three times during that sequence.
“There were three different things that we were going to do,” he said. “One before the timeout, one after and one after (the next).”
The last one worked.
And while it will be the lasting image from the game, Hamilton cautioned against putting too much emphasis on the final few seconds.
Had the Seminoles, say, had one fewer turnover in the first half (they had 11) or prevented Duke from converting eight offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points, the outcome might have been different.
“I thought (those things) really, really made a huge difference in the game,” Hamilton said.
As it stands, the Seminoles are 1-2 in conference play and with tip-off for their next game set for a little more than 48 hours after the conclusion of this one.
Florida State will play at Pittsburgh, 11-5 and 1-2 in the ACC, Monday at 7 p.m.
The Panthers, in their first year under coach Jeff Capel, a former Duke assistant, beat Louisville earlier this week after going winless in the ACC a year ago.
“Playing against a high-quality team like Duke, it lets you know where you are in terms of competing against the top teams in the country,” Hamilton said. “But the way the ACC’s regular season conference race is, it’s as much metal and emotional as it is physical.
“We’ve got to be sure we recharge our batteries and get focused again. Because we can’t go on the road now and come back without a ‘W.’”