Florida State entered its ACC quarterfinal matchup against Miami with an opportunity to effectively diminish the Hurricanes' chances of reaching the big dance.
It did just that.
The 'Noles defeated the ‘Canes 82-71 and will advance to the conference semifinals to face Duke in their second consecutive rubber match. Miami needed to beat Florida State in order to assure itself of a realistic chance to reach the NCAA Tournament, which starts next weekend.
However, FSU refused to allow its interstate rival to join the 68-team field and controlled this battle for much of the night. The Hurricanes were able to cut the Seminole lead to three on three different occasions in the second half, but each time Florida State responded with a run of its own.
The ‘Noles will now enter Saturday's matchup vs. Duke with a chance to defeat the Blue Devils for the second time this season. Their last victory over the blue and white came in January, when Michael Snaer's 3-point buzzer beater sent thousands of Duke supporters home in disbelief.
Duke has since had its revenge on FSU.
The Blue Devils defeated FSU 74-66 in February. It was Duke's deadly 3-point shooting that led it to victory in that one. Each time it seemed the ‘Noles were going to come back and perhaps steal a win, the Blue Devils responded with a big shot.
Many of those timely plays came from forward Ryan Kelly, but the 6-11 junior will be unavailable for Saturday's game due to an injured foot.
While Duke will still be favored in this contest, FSU is no stranger to pulling a shocker. The Seminoles have secured upsets over two top-five opponents this year. The ‘Noles defeated both Duke and North Carolina in a seven-day span back in the middle of January.
Dating back to last season, Florida State has won two of the last three games against the Blue Devils. Duke had been ranked No. 1 last year when the ‘Noles came out on top in Tallahassee and ended the Blue Devils' 25-game winning streak.
Still, this is a new season, and the matchup may come down to how well FSU can defend Duke's 3-point shooting.
The Blue Devils live and die from beyond the arc and have been a solid long-range shooting team throughout the year. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins love to shoot it from deep, and Florida State will have to be strong contesting jumpshots if it wishes to advance to its second ACC Tournament championship game since 2009. Duke hit 13 treys in its win over FSU just a few weeks ago.
The Seminoles have been tough from 3 over their last two contests, as well. The ‘Noles are an impressive 20 of 35 from long range in their last 80 minutes of basketball. They have topped 80 points in both of those games and been led by the outside shooting of Snaer and fellow guard Ian Miller. Snaer and Miller combined for 38 points on 11-of-18 shooting in FSU's most recent win over the ‘Canes. The two will need to be on their "A" games if the ‘Noles are going to shock the world again.
The stage is set for what could be another Duke-Florida State classic. The Seminoles are confident that they have arrived as an ACC powerhouse for years to come. A win Saturday would only help their cause.
Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
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