Duke couldn’t have been feeling too good about themselves after they narrowly escaped Wake Forest 75-70 last week.
While conference wins on the road are at a premium, this year especially, the Blue Devils were a 17-point favorite against the Demon Deacons who are looking at another year where they likely won’t be in the NCAA Tournament.
Heading into this weekend’s game against Florida State I’d been particularly critical of Duke’s lack of consistency since Ryan Kelly went down to injury. They hadn’t looked nearly as good, and for good reason, Kelly was one of the Blue Devils best players. However, every time Duke showed signs of turning the corner post Kelly, they seemed to take a step backwards.
With that in mind as well as their 5-4 record in Tallahassee since 2002, the Florida State game presented a real challenge for he Blue Devils. It was important on several levels, namely confidence, but also to keep them in the ACC regular season race. A loss to the Seminoles would have been perhaps the death of Duke’s regular season title hopes.
There was some uncertainty among the fan base but that lasted all of 5 minutes because that was essentially how long it took for Duke to make the game essentially a no brainer. The Blue Devils scored the games first 11 points and really were never challenged winning by 19.
They did get a little bit sloppy late in the second half, but overall it was the most impressive Duke has looked post Ryan Kelly and since before the Christmas break when Kelly was still playing.
Duke shot lights out shooting 60 percent from the floor and 61 percent from behind the three point arc, an area they had struggled with on the road. They also did it with Mason Plumlee having a pedestrian game (8 points, 5 rebounds). Fortunately for Duke they didn’t need the big man as their guards did most of the scoring damage but it has to be a bit of a positive to see them handily beat a team away from home without their best player having an impactful game.
The Blue Devils started strong and kept their foot on the gas for most of the game. It is safe to assume they won’t be able to shoot that well every game but the defensive intensity was clearly there.
They managed to hold the Seminoles two best scorers, Okaro White and Michael Snaer to 14 combined points and not a single member of the Florida State starting lineup scored in double figures. Duke also managed to force 11 turnovers and outrebounded the Seminoles, something they haven’t done a lot of this season.
That kind of effort is something that the Blue Devils should be able to sustain and will absolutely have to be able to sustain if they still want a shot at winning the ACC Regular Season and getting a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke responded the way you’d expect a Mike Krzyzewski coached team to do but will they do it consistently? Can they replicate even a portion of that performance when NC State comes to town on Thursday night looking to right their ship and beat Duke for the second time this season.
The Blue Devils still have work to to minus Kelly, who isn’t expected back until perhaps later this month, but you’d have to see the Florida State game as a step in the right direction. Now will they continue to move forward or take another step backwards? Only time will tell and a win over NC State would certainly be a sign of continued growth and if the victory over the Seminoles was truly a turning point.
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