Two emotional wins in three days have led into one gigantic game for the Seminoles (19-7, 10-2), who clinched an upper-division finish in the ACC with a 76-62 win at N.C. State on Saturday.
The game followed the Seminoles’ Houdini act earlier in the week with a 48-47 win against Virginia Tech on Michael Snaer’s 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining.
And now, for the main event.
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The Seminoles host Duke on Thursday in arguably the biggest ACC game of their history in this league. All the tickets are sold. National television awaits. Having already beaten Duke earlier this season, an FSU win would enable the Seminoles to win all tiebreakers, should it come down to that, between the Seminoles, Duke and North Carolina for first place in the final league standings.
But they will also be facing a streaking Duke team that is familiar with these kind of big-stage games, and FSU is not sneaking up on anyone in this league anymore. At issue for the Seminoles is not only how they handle this kind of game, but how they play a few days later when going to Miami. This could either prove to be the greatest week or a disappointing one.
Regardless, the Seminoles are in the NCAA tournament. They are virtually guaranteed to finish no worse than third in the ACC. They proved their mettle in rallying to be Virginia Tech, then blowing out North Carolina State in a game that enabled them to win four times against Tobacco Road teams for the first time.
“We’re not from Tobacco Road where everyone pays attention to basketball,” FSU junior Michael Snaer said. “There’s an added emotion. You’re up here, and you want to win every single game. All of the North Carolina teams are very strong, so talented, and we want to take the challenge.”
This is all heady stuff for a program once mired in mediocrity, once struggling to attain winning seasons and only dream of trying make the NCAA tournament field on a regular basis.
–How high is the fan fervor for FSU’s game Thursday against Duke? FSU students gobbled their 3,600-ticket allotment in just 15 minutes after the tickets became available Sunday. The remaining 8,000 seats at FSU’s Tucker Center were sold out last week, making this perhaps the most-anticipated FSU home game since the school joined the league. And to think, not long ago, FSU was offering promotional deals to try to lure both students and fans into the arena.
–The Seminoles held N.C. State to a season-low 29.3 field-goal percentage in the Saturday win. Shawn Wood, the Wolfpack’s leading scorer, was just 1-of-10 from the floor. Aside from the Wolfpack’s C.J. Leslie’s 8-of-14 performance, the rest of the team was 9-of-44.
–F Antwan Space, a freshman who had played just seven minutes total in the last month, played a career-high eight minutes against N.C. State, scoring two points, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot. He was among 11 FSU players who saw action. None of the 11, including the starters, played more than 29 minutes as coach Leonard Hamilton relied on his depth in a physical game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4/10 — If the Seminoles believe in numerology, these are two numbers to remember. They have attained a grand slam of victories against Tobacco Road teams (Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest) for the first time since joining the ACC 20 years ago. This is also the first time in the ACC existence they have won at least 10 league games in four consecutive seasons. It’s also the first time in school history, not just the ACC, that FSU will play in the NCAA tournament in four consecutive years.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
–vs. Duke, Feb. 23
KEY MATCHUPS: Given the timing, the stage and the circumstances, this might be the biggest FSU home game against an ACC team since the Seminoles joined the league 20 years ago. Never has FSU been in this kind of position to control its destiny in chasing an ACC regular-season title in the final two weeks of the season. To do it, however, the Seminoles have to figure a way to slow Duke’s dynamic backcourt of Seth Curry and freshman star Austin Rivers, the son of Doc Rivers. Combined, they are averaging more than 28 points per game as two of the top 12 overall scorers in the ACC. It will be a tough assignment for FSU’s Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys, plus bench help from Ian Miller and Jeff Peterson. But the Seminoles have to slow these two players and contain their dribble penetration in order to get the game in their favor and play at their tempo.
–at Miami, Feb. 26
KEY MATCHUPS: The Seminoles have played well at Miami, where they have a large fan base, but so much about this Sunday night game will depend upon how much emotion, energy and focus is expended against Duke. The Hurricanes have the added break of playing on Tuesday night, albeit at Maryland, with an extra two days to prepare for FSU. It’s the same scenario as it was the first time. The Seminoles have to contain Miami’s burly C Reggie Johnson, who was held to just four points in the first game in a one-on-one matchup with FSU’s Bernard James. The Seminoles match up well with Miami, but this game will test FSU’s own emotions after being on national stage Thursday night against Duke.
FUTURES MARKET: G Ian Miller, a sophomore and a Charlotte, N.C. native, was the difference in the Seminoles’ win against N.C. State. He scored a team-high 17 points, matching his second-highest output of the season and one point shy of his career-high set Jan. 17 against Maryland. He has now scored in double figures in four consecutive games and is growing confidence. It’s led to a situation where FSU coaches can trust him to take big shots in games, as he did against the Wolfpack, and providing a consistent scorer in the backcourt — a sorely needed area.
–G Michael Snaer entered the game against NC State averaging career-high statistics for points (341) and average points per game (13.6) and rebounds per game (3.8) and blocked shots (10). He had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Wolfpack.
–G Luke Loucks now has a career-high 105 assists in a season and ranks 11th in school history with 344 assists. In addition, he needs only 12 more steals to move into the top 25 in FSU history in that category. Loucks in currently ranked third among all ACC point guards in assists during ACC games (4.3 in 12 ACC games).
–C Bernard James is averaging 11.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game while shooting 73.9 percent from the field (17-of-23) in the last four games. His 141 career blocked shots are fifth best in school history.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“I think we took a step. I thought we took another step because this was a game that was extremely important for them. So we knew we were going to get their best shot. We knew we were going to get it, so we had to rise to the occasion.” — Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton after his team’s crucial road win Feb. 18 against N.C. State.