The clock had just crept under four minutes remaining Tuesday night at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee when Florida State freshman Jonathan Isaac rose. A sold out crowd was already on its feet. An ecstatic Florida State bench was jumping and dancing with joy. But Isaac kept rising, and when he stopped, he threw down an emphatic dunk.
It was the exclamation point that No. 9 Florida State’s 88-72 victory over No. 7 Duke deserved. Less than 100 feet away, the Blue Devils’ bench just sat there. Silenced. Stunned. Drained. Worn down.
This was a beatdown — not always on the scoreboard, as Duke matched the Seminoles for 25 minutes, but almost always on the court. Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard kept the Blue Devils in it early. That wouldn’t last.
And it was especially a beatdown inside. Leonard Hamilton’s team scored a remarkable 50 of its first 71 points in the paint, and 56 of its total 88 in the painted area. Duke’s watered down front line couldn’t cope.
Florida State got to the rim with stunning and almost unerring ease, especially in the second half. And it did so in a variety of ways. Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes got there off the dribble. They dished to Michael Ojo and Isaac for dunks and uncontested layups.
And the Seminoles attacked the offensive glass. Oh, man, did they attack the offensive glass. They rebounded precisely 40 percent of their own misses. But the numbers weren’t nearly as impressive as the ferocity with which they compiled them. Duke’s big men, and in particular Chase Jeter, were overwhelmed.
The natural inclination is to point to the absence of Blue Devils forward Amile Jefferson, who was out with a bone bruise, as the leading reason for Duke’s frontcourt vulnerability. Jefferson has arguably been Duke’s best and most important player this season, and with Harry Giles still working his way back from knee surgery, the drop-off behind Jefferson is steep.
But the inclination should be to simply point to Florida State. The Seminoles’ starting lineup stands 6-foot-4, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-10 and 7-foot-1, and even that undersells their length and space-eating capabilities. Terance Mann, the 6-foot-6 wing, flew in for five offensive boards, and was 6-of-7 from the floor on two layups, two tip-ins and a dunk. Ojo played just 13 minutes, but Duke couldn’t handle the 7-foot-1, 300-pound 24-year-old down low.
Florida State is legit. Don’t let any of Duke’s flaws, even the accentuated ones without Jefferson, tell you otherwise. It certainly has the size. It certainly has the talent. Its halfcourt offense isn’t as smooth as it could be, nor is it consistent enough from beyond the three-point arc. But it often doesn’t need to be. Its advantages can be overbearing
It’s also one of the deepest teams in the nation. One of the reasons the Blue Devils looked so worn down Tuesday night was their shallow rotation. Mike Krzyzewski — and now Jeff Capel, who is coaching in Krzyzewski’s place while the head coach recovers from surgery — give only 24.8 percent of the team’s minutes to bench players. Capel got only four points from his bench in Tallahassee.
The Seminoles, on the other hand, are 12 players deep, and give 41 percent of minutes to the bench. All 12 of those players played at least five minutes Tuesday. Eleven of the 12 played at least nine. And whenever Hamilton went to his second unit, performance never dipped.
Tuesday’s stats — 19 second chance points to Duke’s 7, 21 bench points to Duke’s 4, and 56 points in the paint to Duke’s 28 — are telling.
So is this one: Florida State is 16-1. A win at North Carolina on Saturday would almost surely vault it into the top five. It is not only 4-0 in the ACC and a legitimate contender for the conference crown, but has the talent to accomplish things beyond conference play as well.
“We’re pretty freaking good, if we haven’t proved that already,” Rathan-Mayes said postgame. And he’s right.