A strong finish gives the 'Noles a win crucial to their NCAA hopes.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published March 2, 2006
Florida State's Alexander Johnson dunks behind the Duke defense in the first half.
TALLAHASSEE - So many times, Florida State had been in the position of needing one big play to come up with a big win.
So many times, it didn't do it.
Big-game hunting? Not its forte.
But with a chance, perhaps a last one, to enhance their postseason resume, the Seminoles did everything right in the final 67 seconds to break a tie and pull out a 79-74 win against top-ranked Duke in front of a raucous, season-high crowd of 12,100 at the Donald L. Tucker Center on Wednesday night.
"Our team has grown up a little bit," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We had some great contests when they had some looks, we got some big rebounds and we hit some very important free throws down the stretch. That's a team that's maturing."
The Seminoles (18-8), who end the regular season Sunday at Miami, are 8-7 in the powerful ACC and will finish at least .500 for the first time since the 1992-93 season. Since the NCAA field expanded in 1985, only four teams to finish .500 or better in the ACC have not received an at-large bid.
"I would hope they're an NCAA (Tournament) team," Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I thought they were before this game, but certainly, they're very deserving of it."
Hundreds of giddy FSU students and fans poured onto the court to celebrate the Seminoles' performance and critical signature win, but they jumped the gun by 1.7 seconds.
The floor had to be cleared and FSU was assessed a technical that led to two J.J. Redick free throws before FSU's Al Thornton made two. By that time, Krzyzewski had his top players headed to the safety of the locker room to avoid what was to come, again: a celebration.
"It's unfortunate that happened, but obviously when a crowd rushes while there's still time on the clock, you have to be very concerned," he said. "The game was basically over, so why put those kids in harm's way?"
The harm to Duke (27-2, 14-1) had already been done by the Seminoles, mainly by Thornton and junior center Alexander Johnson.
Thornton scored 26 despite aggravating a sore right wrist that was taped. Johnson added a career-high 22, including a short turnaround jumper over star Shelden Williams to give FSU a 74-72 lead with 1:07 left.
"Coach Ham called a play for me (in a timeout)," said Johnson, who missed the last 9:32 of regulation and all of overtime in a loss at Duke last month after he drew a technical that was subsequently ruled to be incorrectly assessed. "I knew Shelden had four fouls and I just had to do what I do in practice."
It was the kind of play that escaped FSU in losses to Boston College, North Carolina and Duke this season and a half-dozen league games last season.
"It's learning experience," Thornton said. "Once you have all those close games, something clicks. You learn from it and you execute down the stretch."
Duke sophomore guard DeMarcus Nelson missed a one-and-one and Johnson then drew Williams' fifth foul. He made both free throws and was 10-of-13 from the line overall. FSU senior guard Andrew Wilson wouldn't let Redick (30 points) get open and the Blue Devils couldn't answer, losing to FSU for the third time (second as the nation's No. 1 team) in five years.
"Obviously, I don't have a vote, but if they're picking 65 teams," Hamilton said, "we should be in that number."