This was the shocker of the college basketball season thus far, FSU knocking off No. 1 Duke, 66-61, and ending the Blue Devils' 25-game winning streak.
Equally incredible, it was the third time Florida State has beaten No. 1-ranked Duke under coach Leonard Hamilton.
"We haven't been in a game like that all year," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Florida State played a full 40 minutes. They deserved to win. They play outstanding defense."
How in the world did this happen? How did a team that lost to woeful Auburn on the road on Jan. 3, then scored only 19 first-half points in a loss last Saturday at Virginia Tech, rise up to win a game like this?
Start with defense. The Seminoles forced Duke into 15 turnovers, took away their its game and made the Blue Devils rush some 3-pointers. Duke made only 19- of-61 shots, including 11-of-35 from 3-point range.
The Seminoles built an 11-point lead, lost that lead when Duke went on a run, pulled ahead by two in the final two minutes, then put the game away by converting all four free throws in the final 27 seconds.
But as Florida State looks toward the rest of the season, beginning with Saturday's home game against N.C. State, the obvious question looms:
Was this a one-game wonder, or the start of an improved Florida State team?
Under Hamilton, the Seminoles have confounded. They have looked like they did Wednesday night, then seemed so out-of-sync and fragmented in losses to teams with lesser talent.
How they play against the Wolfpack, a team that has given Florida State problems in recent years, will go a long way in shaping the rest of the season.
Beating Duke, however, was the miracle win the Seminoles needed. It erases the loss to Auburn if the Seminoles get into the NCAA tournament conversation. Now, if Florida State can go, say, 10-6 in the ACC, it seems certain to make a third consecutive tournament trip.
Time will tell, however, whether this performance was the ignition to improved performance.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Guard Derwin Kitchen had typified Florida State's shooting problems. He was 0-for-5 in the 71-59 loss to Virginia Tech. But he was the best player on the court against Duke, making 9-of-13 shots from the floor and pouring in a team-high 22 points. He also had 10 rebounds, three steals, three assists. Every time Florida State was faced with a pressure possession in the final minutes, it seemed Kitchen was hitting the shot.
--Junior forward Chris Singleton, who entered the game averaging 21.2 points and 9.3 rebounds in his last four games, picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half and was forced to sit for an extended period. But he finished with 18 points and three rebounds. He hit a pivotal 3-point shot in the final minutes to help extend Florida State's lead to five points.
--For only the second time in the last 17 games, Florida State had fewer blocked shots, two, than its opponent. Duke had three.
--This was Florida State's first home game since the students returned to campus and the first since Nov. 30, when the game was on a week night with the students on campus. It showed in the crowd enthusiasm. Florida State produced one of its rare sellouts at the 12,700-seat Tucker Center, selling all seats a day in advance of the game.
--Florida State is on pace to average its most rebounds in 10 years, 41.9 per game, and has out-rebounded nine consecutive opponents.
--In losses to Auburn and Virginia Tech, the Seminoles failed to shoot 35 percent in either game. The biggest problem? Their guard play has really struggled. Starters Deividas Dulkys, Derwin Kitchen and Michael Snaer, all returning players, combined to make only 7 of 30 shots from the field. Kitchen, who missed all five of his field goal attempts vs. Virginia Tech, had averaged 14 points in the previous four games.
--About the only positive stat for the Seminoles is rebounding, where they out-rebounded nine consecutive opponents, including a 39-30 edge against Virginia Tech, through Jan. 8.
--The Seminoles went the final 6:48 against Virginia Tech without scoring a point.
BY THE NUMBERS: 33 -- Number of turnovers the Seminoles have made in their last two games, while making only 28 assists.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I still like this team. And I believe that we'll have a good year. Hopefully, we'll be better than we were last year. And I have reason to believe that." -- Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. North Carolina State, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolfpack does not have a scorer among the top 20 in the ACC, but senior forward Tracy Smith is back after missing 10 games with a knee injury. He has averaged 15.5 points a game, but will be shadowed by Chris Singleton in this game. Like Florida State, the Wolfpack has struggled shooting and scoring, but has stayed competitive with aggressive rebounding and solid defense.
FUTURES MARKET: With the exception of Duke, the Seminoles will be seeing a steady diet of straight zone and matchup zone defenses this season until their perimeter players can knock down shots. Duke will be the one team playing the Seminoles man-to-man, because that's been the Blue Devils' style and they have superior talent to get it done. Florida State's problem is trying to figure a way to get one of its guards to gain confidence and get hot, because this team has few other options.
--Freshman G Ian Miller, who has not played since early December, did not make the trip to Virginia Tech. Hamilton said a decision about Miller's status will be made later this week. There is a chance he could apply for a medical hardship.
--Junior F Chris Singleton was the lone bright spot for the Seminoles against Virginia Tech, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He went into the game having averaged a double-double of 16 points and 10.3 rebounds in his last four games. "Chris was very relaxed and under control," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "He was solid, but in our league, you've got to have more than one guy stepping up. And we didn't have that."
--Junior C Jon Kreft, a 7-foot-1 player expected to be a big boost when he finally became eligible Dec. 16, has made minimal impact. Playing sparingly in both games, he scored only three points apiece against Auburn and Virginia Tech -- teams where he should have enjoyed a big height advantage. None of the Hokies' starters, for example, were taller than 6-8, but it didn't matter. Kreft, 24, a player Hamilton signed six years ago before Kreft ran afoul of the law, played only six minutes against Virginia Tech but picked up three personal fouls in that time.