Florida State's focus key in win at No. 4 Duke

BY foxsports • January 21, 2012

DURHAM, N.C. — Bernard James spent five years in the Air Force, so he's tough enough to watch film of Florida State's losses to Princeton and Clemson over and over as motivation.

In late December, the Seminoles scored just 10 points in the first half at home in a triple-overtime loss to Princeton, and just two weeks ago FSU was blown out at Clemson by 20 points. Since then, however, James and the ‘Noles have been as sharp as any team in the nation, a run that extended to Saturday's 76-73 victory over No. 4 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Florida State spent most of Saturday afternoon playing catch-up with the Blue Devils. Duke built several six-, seven- and 8-point leads, only to see Deividas Dulkys, Xavier Gibson, Michael Snaer and company fight back. The Seminoles eventually responded to an 8-0 Duke run and outscored the Devils 26-15 the rest of the way.

FSU is using the fuel from those aforementioned defeats as motivation to charge forward.

"The embarrassment of mismanaging our season early on," James said when asked about the sudden change in FSU's trek. "We had some nice victories, but then we got a little complacent and had some embarrassing losses. Remembering that feeling and not wanting that again, I think that's what drives our team right now."

In defeating Duke on Snaer's buzzer-beater — he also drained a 3-pointer to close the first half — Florida State ended the Devils' 45-game home winning streak. But the Noles don't care about other team's numbers, stats or rankings. They are now zeroed in on themselves.

And they realize that's the only reason they've knocked off North Carolina by 33 points, Maryland by 14, and Duke in its menacing home in an eight-day stretch. Incidentally, those programs have combined to win five NCAA titles in the last decade.

Now FSU sits atop the ACC in control of its own destiny. The Seminoles don't have to play at UNC or Virginia and get Duke at home.

"We're not worried about streaks, we're worried about us," said James, who finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocks and steals. "And we have something to play for. We are in the driver's seat."

But when FSU (13-6, 4-1 ACC) was drilled by a mediocre Clemson team two weeks ago, the Noles were arguably the most disappointing team in college basketball. Picked to finish third in the ACC, FSU didn't come close to resembling an NCAA Tournament team.

But enough was enough. They regrouped and started to jell like they should have in December. Adjusting to not having Ian Miller yet and life without Chris Singleton, who left for the NBA last spring, should have been as hard as it appeared.

"Chris has an NBA game … ," said James, who later noted he would love to still have Singleton on the team. "And the ball tended to slow down when he touched it — that kind of stagnated our offense sometimes. We actually move the ball a lot better without him."

He's right. FSU is athletic, skilled and capable enough to score on any defense, and its current composition should be higher-scoring than the last few teams. It has depth and balance and gobs of experience.

As well as they are playing, however, James and his teammates know they aren't far removed from playing terribly. That's why he often watches the Princeton and Clemson games.

"I actually go back and watch those games frequently just so I can remember how I felt and don't get complacent," he said.

Hamilton is fine with the Air Force vet using any reasonable method to stay focused.

"We don't want them to forget that, but we're not going to dwell on it," the coach said. "But if that's a motivation for him, that's fine… I'm motivated because if we're not prepared for the next game we will get our head handed to us."

It also shows maturity in the program. A lot of schools go into the tank after notching landmark victories. But the Noles knew that had they lost to Maryland, the win over UNC would have been regarded a fluke.

They'd rather be called something else, and view the regular season as a means of becoming a team capable of exceeding last season's Sweet 16 run.

It will require a fifth consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament, a probability significantly enhanced after being the first team to beat the Blue Devils since 2009, when eventual national champion UNC celebrated in Cameron.

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