Call it a rite of passage.
Leonard Hamilton has stressed through the course of the season that Florida State no longer wants to be No. 3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Rather, the ACC Coach of the Year wishes for his team to belong in the same conversation as perennial powerhouses Duke and North Carolina.
Well, he has the nation chattering.
The ‘Noles defeated Duke for the second time this season 62-59 on Saturday afternoon in the ACC Tournament semifinal. Michael Snaer led the Seminoles with 16 points, and senior Bernard James added 13 points and seven rebounds.
However, in this one, it was Luke Loucks' time to shine.
Big shots this season have typically been reserved for Snaer and Ian Miller. After all, Snaer buried these very Blue Devils on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer back in January and also finished off Virginia Tech last month. Miller joined the party late in the season against Virginia when he nailed a game-winning trey with less than a second to play.
Nonetheless, Miller had been reserved to a spectator after fouling out and Duke was giving Snaer plenty of attention, so Loucks took it upon himself to carry the Seminoles to the finish line.
Up by one and with 11 seconds on the clock, the Clearwater native went isolation, rose up and took perhaps the biggest shot of his life.
It went in.
The rest is now written in the history books, and FSU will participate in just its second conference tournament final.
"I was pumped in the timeout when they were saying that it would be in my hands," said Loucks. "Obviously, that was a big moment for me for them to trust me."
Big moments are becoming a trend with this year's Seminole squad.
Florida State has been involved in several close ACC games this season and managed to finish off most of them successfully. The ‘Noles are 7-1 in conference matchups decided by five points or less, the only loss coming at the hands of Boston College.
FSU may be in store for yet another close game Sunday when it meets No. 1 seed North Carolina in the tournament final.
The Seminoles defeated the Tar Heels in their only contest this season. North Carolina suffered its worst loss in the Roy Williams era when it fell 90-57 in Tallahassee early on in ACC play.
Deividas Dulkys was the hero that afternoon. He had a career-high 32 points and hit eight 3s to lead Florida State. The team collectively shot 44 percent from beyond the arc and was dominant from the opening tip.
The ‘Noles expect a much different Tar Heel effort this time around.
"It's North Carolina," said Snaer after the game. "We've got to go out there and be the tougher team."
A second consecutive win over UNC could have people referring to a Big 3 when thinking of the ACC, not just a Big 2.
"We are trying to change the culture at Florida State, get people to take us seriously, look at us as a basketball school and not just give it to Duke and North Carolina every year," James said. "We definitely want to play them to prove that we belong at the top of the ACC."
The ‘Noles may very well have already proven that they belong near the top of the conference. Beating the Blue Devils twice in one season is no small feat, and this victory will surely put FSU in better standing come Selection Sunday.
However, the lack of smiles on the faces of Seminole players as the buzzer sounded is an indication that this team means business. It no longer feels the shock of an upset. Rather, it expects to win.
Now, they have an opportunity to win the school's first ever conference tournament championship. Do that, and you can be sure the ‘Noles will be spoken about in the same breath as Duke and North Carolina.
At least for one year.
Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
Loucks rises to occasion vs. Duke
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