Florida State puts up its Dukes and crashes the ACC final

Yeah, baby! Ian Miller exults. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The deed done, Ian Miller exults. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Of preparing to play Duke, the Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said this week: “They draw a line in the sand on every possession. You have to understand that before you can even think about winning the game.”

There may be better teams in college basketball, but in terms of will there’s only one Duke. And yet …

The strangest thing happened in Saturday’s ACC semifinal. There were two Dukes on the floor.

Said Mike Krzyzewski, at worst the second-best coach in the history of the sport: “This was not an X-and-O game; this was an effort game. If you lose, you want the kind of effort I had from my team. This was a winning effort.”

Yet Duke lost, which hadn’t happened in the ACC tournament since March 15, 2007, and has happened in this event only five times since 1998. Duke lost because it ran across an opponent that was a tad more gifted and every bit as tough.

Florida State, ostensibly a football school, is changing the dynamics of a league ruled by the twin towers of Tobacco Road. In 2009 the Seminoles upset North Carolina in the semis and played Duke for the title, and now they’ve done it the other way around. The masses might still look on FSU and see Chief Osceola planting his flaming spear in the sod of Doak Campbell Stadium, but you couldn’t watch Florida State work Saturday and not think: “That’s one classy basketball program.”

As Greenberg noted, Duke is the measuring stick for all hoops intangibles. FSU measured up in every category. It outplayed the Devils most of the game, lost the lead late, then snatched it back and held on. The ‘Noles made the Duke-like shots — Michael Snaer’s daring trey to put his team back ahead, then Luke Loucks’ nerveless jumper with 12 seconds left. And even then it wasn’t quite done: Seth Curry’s 45-foot cast off a midcourt deflection looked good until it spun out at the buzzer.

“Longest three seconds of my life,” Loucks said.

Talent? The ‘Noles have a ton of it. Guts and guile? Got that stuff, too.

Afterward Krzyzewski, who’s connoisseur enough to appreciate a great game no matter which side wins, gushed over both teams. “We lost playing winning basketball,” he said. Also this: “I think [Michael Snaer] is the best competitor in our league.”

And here we pause to note: This wasn’t one of the old-line ACC outposts Coach K was lauding — Wake Forest or Maryland or N.C. State — but a team that arrived in the Tiffany league in 1991 and has fought, even on its campus, for relevance.

FSU hired Leonard Hamilton in 2002. He’d done nice work at Oklahoma State and then Miami, but mostly he was known for two things: As being maybe the greatest recruiter ever — he lured the playground legend Fly Williams from Brooklyn to Austin Peay in the ’70s and at Kentucky, he landed McDonald’s All-Americans by the ton — and as having lasted only one season with the Washington Wizards working under Michael Jordan.

“The Ham,” as he was known in the Bluegrass, actually is anything but. He’s a dour sort who’s famous for guarding his words. But he has moved heaven and earth to bring big-time players to Tallahassee, and he has coached the heck out of them. Yes, FSU has the occasional lapse — it lost to Harvard and Princeton and Boston College this season, not to mention a 20-point drubbing at Clemson — but it has finished third in the ACC three years running.

Asked Saturday if his has become, to use his phrase, “a significant program,” Hamilton typically tried to duck the question. Then he said: “Competing in the ACC gives us a unique opportunity, with two of the greatest programs in the history of basketball in our league. If you can get in between them and compete with them, it allows you to keep moving forward.”

For the second time in three seasons, FSU has spoiled a Duke-Carolina ACC final in this city, which isn’t to say this is nothing but a spoiler program. It’s way better than that. The Seminoles were good enough to wax Carolina by 33 points and to beat Duke at Cameron this season, and they were better than Duke again Saturday.

It will take another mighty effort to unhorse Carolina on Sunday, but effort for Florida State is a given. This team doesn’t back down. “We needed one stop, and we couldn’t get that stop,” Krzyzewski said.

That’s not something that has happened often to Duke the last quarter-century, but it happened Saturday. Duke didn’t just meet its match. In FSU, it met its double.

Promotional work: Check back here Sunday night to enter the 25th edition of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco. (First prize: A $1,000 Kroger gift card.) And, if you dare, join me here at 12:30 p.m. Monday for a live video chat.)

By Mark Bradley

33 comments Add your comment

Sonny Clusters

March 10th, 2012
7:41 pm

Mark Bradley

March 10th, 2012
7:42 pm

Sonny Clusters

March 10th, 2012
7:50 pm

Saturday night and Clusters everywhere should be out having fun but we are experiencing some soreness in our thigh and have decided to shut it down for a few games. That’s why we are blogging on Saturday night, not because we are living a pitiful existence. We was noticing the Braves lost another spring training game and, as Fredi will tell you, that’s okay. We apologize for talking baseball but talking basketball is not something we’re good at. Have to tip your cap to the Yankees today.

Paul in NH

March 10th, 2012
7:51 pm

A well deserved win for FSU today. They played hard and smart – and also had some impressive athletes on the front line. Coach K really needs to get Parker.

J Clay

March 10th, 2012
7:52 pm

Good game for the Noles. Seems to me Duke should drop to 3 seed with 2 losses this week.
As for tomorrow, something tells me Noles don’t win by 33 again, Heels by 5.

Mark Bradley

March 10th, 2012
8:01 pm

From a neutral observer’s perspective, I have to say I loved that game. Two really tough teams playing as hard as they could.

Realist

March 10th, 2012
8:02 pm

Florida State has a great chance tomorrow. Much like in 2009, UNC will likely be without one of its most important players. Then, it was point guard Ty Lawson, who was rested by Roy Williams with a bad toe. Lawson got healthy, and Carolina won a national championship. Can’t imagine Roy, who once said the ACC Tourney was a cocktail party, will risk a great chance at another NCAA title by playing John Henson in a game that is meaningless for UNC… they should be a number one seed regardless of the outcome tomorrow. Great game by FSU today… Duke will remain a two, but the Noles might just sneak onto the 3 line with their first ACC title.

Tim

March 10th, 2012
8:14 pm

FSU is talented, Mark, but a strange team, too. You left that out. The Seminoles lost to Harvard, Princeton and Boston College, but nailed UNC by 33 points, then won at Duke and again over the Blue Devils today.
Do you know former UGA coach Hugh Durham is still the winningest coach in FSU history as he is in UGA’s history? Also, the best recruiter of all-time… How ’bout former UGA assistant Roger Banks? Leonard Hamilton is not in his class. Banks recruited Dominque Wilkins, Vern Fleming and James Banks (All McDonalds Prep All-Americans) to UGA, Tico Brown and Sammy Drummer to GA Tech, Charles Barkley and Chuck Person to Auburn and John Drew to Gardner-Webb. Ask Dominique about Roger Banks. He’ll tell you that Roger is the best recruiter in college basketball history. I know– He told me that recently!

Andrew

March 10th, 2012
8:14 pm

did anyone notice that curry took four steps without dribbling on that final shot? No travel? if that shot had gone in it might have been one of the worst blown calls.

Anon1

March 10th, 2012
8:27 pm

bulldogbubba

March 10th, 2012
9:06 pm

Clusters they are now consistently losing.I have noticed Constanza has played several games. Are they trying to prove he is not an everyday player to us fans?

Dubvee

March 10th, 2012
9:12 pm

Sonny, are the braves going to be any good? Can we get another little flag this year?

Mark Bradley

March 10th, 2012
9:24 pm

I know about Roger Banks, Tim.

Tim

March 10th, 2012
9:44 pm

Glad you do, Mark. You should do a column on him.

Farnsworthy

March 10th, 2012
9:49 pm

Great win for FSU. It should be noted that Duke was playing without one of their starters (Ryan Kelly, injured foot).

Farnsworthy

March 10th, 2012
9:50 pm

Braves, who can’t hit again this year, are playing like a last place team.

Sonny Clusters

March 10th, 2012
10:18 pm

We was wondering if Fredi is wearing out his cap down in Florida? The funniest thing is hearing what uh, Chipper has to say. If a deer could talk . . .

The best thing the Braves could do is ban Chipper from talking at all. Open mouth – something stupid comes out. 14 yeas of division splendor. !4 championship years. 14 years of being told they are champions when they really aren’t. How about that 2010 wild card championship? That one was special. Of course, last season was the EPIC Collapse. That little sign is being printed, right?

We are concerned about the pattern of losing – the pattern of leaving runners stranded – the inability to push runners over and in. We wonder why nobody can or will hit behind a runner? Dale Murphy was trying his best to say they need to learn how to get runs in playing small ball. Doing that on the Braves network is not easily done.

GBuck76

March 10th, 2012
11:49 pm

Thanks, Mark. Nice win. Better effort. I think they’ll hang tomorrow.

DawgNole

March 10th, 2012
11:50 pm

Good column on the Noles, Mark. Don’t see that much at all in the AJC–especially during basketball season. Doesn’t look like your bloggers know how to handle it very well; they’re mostly talking about the Braves.

Techfan22

March 11th, 2012
3:11 am

FSU has not got a chance if they haven’t paid the ref’s before the game. The ACC is crooked

Go Go Pilots

March 11th, 2012
4:51 am

Ought be good game FSU 89 N.C. 78 for ACC title today be final score

Buzz2011

March 11th, 2012
8:37 am

I think you should be talking SEC brand ball Bradley. You know little of real basketball in
ACC and you are more importantly a Dawg lover. Go write about your Dawgs as they cry about no big dance this year..

wes

March 11th, 2012
10:00 am

This was a vintage Bradley article. Great stuff, Mark.

Old School

March 11th, 2012
10:04 am

Congrats FSU, a hard fought & well deserved win. What a clutch bucket from Loucks. I really like Coach Hamilton, classy and underrated.

“Mike Krzyzewski, at worst the second-best coach in the history of the sport”. Wow Mark, not so sure about that one.

DawgNole

March 11th, 2012
10:59 am

Some bitter Tech fans on here. A shame–but no big surprise.

Delbert D.

March 11th, 2012
11:13 am

I didn’t watch the game, but I think Mark’s article is getting my curiosity up.

bawbie

March 11th, 2012
11:50 am

FIRE DAVE PERNO! FIRE MARK FOX!

Paul in NH

March 11th, 2012
1:02 pm

I wouldn’t bet against FSU in the final of the ACC tourney. No Henson for UNC and Hamilton wants it more than Ole Roy.

Jeff

March 11th, 2012
3:32 pm

Kentacky doesn’t look so ivincible now does it mb. You’ll still pick them to win it all though. haha I bet they lose sweet 16 round

bawbie

March 11th, 2012
4:29 pm

UGA baseball stinks too….. time to run all of those clowns out of Athens of the big three sports!

SuperB

March 11th, 2012
5:58 pm

Congratulatins to FSU! Luckily for the, it was UNC they were playing. UNC shouldn’t have even been in the final– but thanks to ACc referee BRIAN DORSEY, they were. Since Dorsey decided the outcome of the UNC- N. C. State game.

BRIAN DORSEY: what a sorry job as an official!

sports

March 11th, 2012
7:10 pm

pretty sweet for FSU to kick the snot out of duke and north carolina…and of all things, a football school.

kral

March 11th, 2012
8:02 pm

congrats to those in the dance…now please remove from the English language…”body of work”…”eye test”…they really do not mean crap