'Noles exorcise a demon in Durham

Florida State had not been proficient closing out games this season. However, Saturday the 'Noles closed out one of the top teams in the country on arguably basketball's most hostile home floor.

There had been moments when this one could have gotten away, but Florida State simply wouldn't let it.

Duke had been firing on all cylinders, hitting three after three as the game approached nine minutes to play in regulation.

However, the Seminoles would outscore the Blue Devils 26-15 over those final nine minutes to secure a 76-73 win, bringing Duke's 45-game home winning streak to a screeching halt.

Duke's talented freshman, Austin Rivers, converted a bucket to tie the game at 73 with 4.9 seconds to play, and the thought was, Here we go again. After all, the ‘Noles had been unable to win close games at the end.

But this time was to be different.

Luke Loucks came streaking down the court following the Rivers bucket and sent a perfect pass to Michael Snaer, who was ready to receive. The 6-5 junior was cool, calm and collected as the ball left his fingertips just before the buzzer sounded.

The rest is now history. Demon exorcised. Upset secured.

The victory gave Florida State its second win over a top-five opponent in the past week and its fourth consecutive triumph overall. The Seminoles are now tied atop the ACC and currently hold the tiebreaker with the Blue Devils.

For obvious reasons, Saturday's breakthrough was a big one. It gave the ‘Noles another win over a major opponent and another victory that holds merit with the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

In all likelihood, the Seminoles will need at least 20 wins to reach the tournament for the fourth consecutive season. In other words, they still need to secure wins in seven of their final 11 games, so there is still much work to be done.

Nonetheless, Florida State grabbed more than just another W as they exited Cameron Indoor Stadium. It also gained more than just an upset on the road. It captured the understanding that, regardless of the moment, at home or in enemy territory, this team can close games and close them out efficiently.

Moments like these have been few and far between for the Seminoles. Snaer had an opportunity to close out Connecticut earlier in the season, but he failed to convert. Bernard James had a chance to secure a victory over Princeton, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1.8 seconds to play in the first overtime. No other game has been decided by fewer than five points.

Therefore, the Seminoles haven't been in these positions often, and when they have been the outcome tended to be far from what they had hoped.

Until Saturday, that is.

This accomplishment was in many ways more impressive than the dismantling of North Carolina just one week ago. After all, the outcome of that contest was never really in question, and Florida State had the luxury of emptying its bench prior to the game's conclusion. Deividas Dulkys was on the entire afternoon, and the Tar Heels never had an answer.

However, the matchup with Duke was much different, and the ‘Noles needed to fight on every possession to keep themselves within striking distance.

After struggling mightily on the boards in the first half, the Seminoles came out with a different mindset to begin the second.

James, who appeared distant and uninvolved in the first 20 minutes, was much more active in the second half and played a major role in the final moments. The Savannah, Georgia, native finished with 12 points and eight boards while making several key baskets down the stretch.

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A collective team effort allowed for FSU to knock off a team that appeared to be unbeatable on its home floor.

Xavier Gibson helped out with 16 points and was from 7 of 8 from the line. Dulkys added 12 points, while Loucks contributed with 8 and the most important assist of the afternoon.

It's quickly becoming a reality that FSU is much better than its record indicates. As fans poured into the Tucker Center last Saturday to watch a struggling Seminoles team do battle with powerhouse UNC, many were simply hoping the game would be close. Perhaps the preseason pick of a third-place finish in the ACC was a bit ambitious.

Now, it appears that picking them to finish third -- behind recent victims North Carolina and Duke -- was not quite ambitious enough.

Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.

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