None of that mattered much Wednesday night.
Derwin Kitchen scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half, Chris Singleton added 18 points and the Seminoles pulled of their latest upset of the Blue Devils, 66-61. It was the third time since 2002 that Florida State beat a top-ranked Duke team at home.
“We have not been in a game like that (this season). They knocked us back,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team hadn’t lost since a 79-72 setback last March at Maryland. “You just learn from the experience. We have a long way to go.”
While the Blue Devils were putting together their winning streak, which included another ACC title and their fourth national championship, the Seminoles were trying to find an identity.
They lost competitive back-to-back games earlier this season to Florida and Ohio State, then seemed to get things going in the right direction, before dropping three of their last four to Butler, Auburn and Virginia Tech.
But there’s just something about the Seminoles when they play top-ranked teams.
This was the fourth time they’ve knocked off No. 1, including in 2002 and 2006 against Duke. Florida State fans rushed the floor following the final buzzer, making for a garnet-and-gold mob scene at center court, and one was still climbing on the rim 15 minutes after the game ended.
“We’ve had some kinks and some problems earlier in the season,” center Bernard James said. “We’ve figured some stuff out in the last couple practices we had, creating for each other.”
The Seminoles were up 28-24 at halftime and by as many as 11 early in the second half, but the game was tight to the finish. Florida State needed five free throws in the final 33 seconds.
Kyle Singler scored 20 points and Nolan Smith had 19 for the Blue Devils, who missed their first 10 3-point attempts and shot 31.1 percent overall.
“Tonight wasn’t about us being bad,” Krzyzewski said. “They were really good.”
Every time Duke got close, Kitchen had an answer. The 6-foot-4 senior guard had a team-high 10 rebounds to go with his 22 points, his second double-double of the season.
“I just took what they gave me and tried to be as aggressive as possible,” he said. “When I’m more aggressive we’re a better team than when I’m just sitting back passing the ball.”
“He went into beast mode,” James said.
Singleton’s two free throws with 33 seconds left gave the Seminoles a 63-58 lead, but Smith’s 3-pointer chopped the Duke deficit to two with 26.9 seconds remaining.
That was as close as the Blue Devils got. Michael Snaer hit a pair of free throws and Okaro White added another to seal it after Duke misfired at the other end.
“We came together tonight,” Singleton said. “If we can beat them we can beat anybody.”
Duke came into the game averaging nearly 88 points, having outscored its opponents by just under 25 per game this season. That included ipmressive wins over then-No. 4 Kansas State, then-No. 6 Michigan State and an 82-70 rout of Butler in a rematch of the national title game.
“Our guys stuck with our game plan,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They maintained their poise. We hit the big free throws down the stretch. I hope they understand now exactly the way they have to play in order to be successful.”
Smith’s 3 with 2:26 left pulled Duke to 59-58, but Kitchen countered with a baseline pull-up to give Florida State a 61-58 edge with 2:01 to go.
Singler missed a 3-pointer with a minute remaining that would’ve tied the score.
Singler didn’t get his first field goal until the opening minute of the second half on a goaltending call on Singleton, but then heated up quickly, hitting five of his next six from 3-point distance to help wipe out Florida State’s 40-29 cushion early in the second half.
Duke caught up with a 13-2 run and tied it at 42 on Andre Dawkins’ three free throws after being fouled by Singleton on a 3-pointer. Kitchen answered again, this time with a 3-pointer from the top of the circle, and Duke could never get the lead.
James put back a pair of offensive rebounds in the final 1:15 of the first half to give Florida State a 28-24 lead at the break.
Duke came into the game shooting just below 50 percent for the season, but went only 9 of 32 for a 28.1 percent effort in the first half against Florida State’s rangy defense.
“They’re very fundamentally sound. They play outstanding defense and they’re committed to it,” Krzyzewski said. “Their defense just dominated our offense for about 25 minutes in the ballgame.”
Florida State’s 11-6 lead on Singleton’s jumper was the largest either team had in a first half that featured eight lead changes and seven ties.
Duke’s biggest lead was three points, 16-13 and 24-21.