DURHAM, NC — There might never be an ideal time to play at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But in case the Florida State men’s basketball team didn’t have a steep enough hill to climb, here’s what the Seminoles were up against on Tuesday night:
The Blue Devils were celebrating Senior Night and bidding farewell to program stalwarts Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. Duke also was a little bit angry and a little bit desperate for a win after two consecutive losses.
Finally, the Blue Devils had a chance to pay back the Seminoles for a lopsided rout in Tallahassee earlier this season. And they didn’t let that chance go to waste.
Starting for the limited Grayson Allen, Duke freshman Frank Jackson scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half as the 17th-ranked Blue Devils topped No. 19 Florida State, 75-70, in front of 9,314 fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The loss drops FSU to fifth place in the ACC standings, a half-game behind Louisville and Notre Dame, and after Duke via tiebreaker.
FSU, however, can leap back into the top four with a win over Miami at home in Saturday’s regular-season finale (4 p.m., ACC Network). The top four finishers receive a double-bye in the ACC tournament.
Duke (23-7, 11-6) closes its campaign Saturday at North Carolina.
“We have nobody to blame but ourselves tonight,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “You’ve got to be at your very best to be successful against a team of this caliber. And tonight we were not at our best.”
Indeed, the Seminoles required a frantic rally in the game’s waning moments to provide a close final score.
FSU trailed by as much as 19 points in the second half and could never cut its deficit to within two possessions down the stretch.
Twice the Seminoles cut Duke’s lead to eight points when the game was still in the balance, but the Blue Devils had a response each time.
First when Duke’s Luke Kennard answered a Bacon 3-pointer with a deep 3 of his own. And again a few minutes later when FSU surrendered two offensive rebounds – including one after a free-throw miss – that led to a pair of free throws by Kennard and another double-digit deficit.
The Blue Devils turned 14 offensive boards into 17 second-chance points.
“That’s a huge win for us,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Guys were playing so hard for both teams. That’s why you have more turnovers (26) than assists (15) by both teams. It was physical, tough-minded. It was a man’s game.”
Sparked by Bacon’s 11 points in the final 3:22, the Seminoles outscored 12-6 in the final four minutes to provide the final margin.
If nothing else, it was an encouraging, albeit brief, return to form for Bacon, who had his highest output since scoring 19 against North Carolina State on Feb. 8.
“I’ve just got to get myself going earlier,” Bacon said. “That’s kind of on me to get myself involved in the offense.”
FSU had plenty of chances in the early goings, but, in frustrating fashion, struggled to finish near the basket.
For weeks, Hamilton had preached the need for his team to increase its post touches and let the offense flow through the Seminoles’ typical height advantage.
The only problem? The ball wouldn’t cooperate.
FSU’s three centers combined to shoot 1 for 10 from the floor, including 0 for 7 in the first half.
That, combined with 12 defensive rebounds by the Blue Devils in the first period, helped them stretch what was a one-point game with 8:39 to go in the half into a 15-point gap a few minutes later.
“For whatever reason, we couldn’t finish our layups in the first half, and I thought our offensive execution is not nearly what it had been,” Hamilton said. “We had a lot of easy opportunities. We just didn’t make layups. And they built a lead and now we’ve got to dig ourselves out of a ditch.”
That ditch got even bigger in the second half thanks to Duke’s Jackson, a former McDonald’s All-American who came into the contest averaging 9.9 points per game.
With Allen nursing an ankle injury, Jackson stepped up and shot 8 of 15 from the field to reach a new career scoring high.
Jackson, who scored just three points against FSU in Tallahassee on Jan. 10, did most of his damage early in the second half, when he erupted for 13 points and five straight made shots in the span of just 3:31.
Jackson’s last 3-pointer – he made three – gave Duke a 49-30 lead with 15:37 to go in the game.
“The first game, he didn’t really do much against us, but he came out and showed the world that he can play,” Bacon said. “That’s what guys at Duke do. There’s always going to be a guy that you don’t expect that shows up big time. He went on a scoring rampage and we didn’t know what to do because, at the time, we didn’t expect it.”
After playing three of its last four games on the road, FSU is headed home in search of a perfect home slate. The Seminoles are 17-0 at the Donald L. Tucker Center this season, and haven’t made it through a whole season unscathed at home since 1975-76.
Then it’s off to Brooklyn for the ACC tournament, where the Seminoles say they wouldn’t mind a rematch with the Blue Devils.
“We were right there,” Rathan-Mayes said. “We did a really good job of fighting back, staying in the game and continuing to fight, no matter what the score was and what calls we got.
“We hope we can see them again in the tournament on a neutral court.”