ATLANTA — As he dribbled out the final seconds of his team's ACC tournament championship win, Duke guard Nolan Smith offered some encouraging words to Florida State star Toney Douglas:
"Let's all go get them in the NCAA Tournament."
The Blue Devils claimed their 17th title with Sunday's 79-69 win and prevented the Seminoles, in the league finale for the first time, from leaving the Georgia Dome with snippets of nylon (a few did grab an ACC tournament placard as a souvenir), but FSU's disappointment was tempered.
For the first time in 11 years, the Seminoles didn't have to win this tournament to assure themselves of an NCAA Tournament berth. They knew it. Nolan Smith knew it. Everyone knew it.
"Our coaches always tell us that great teams don't lose two in a row," said Douglas, who scored 28 and finished with 80 in the tourney and became the first Seminole to earn a spot on the All-ACC tournament first team. "After every loss, we never lost the next one. We've got to build from that."
The No. 9-ranked and third-seeded Blue Devils (28-6) gave No. 22-ranked and fourth-seeded FSU some things to work on for that next one.
With their team down 11-9 at one point, Duke sophomore forward Kyle Singler hit three straight 3-pointers and junior swingman Gerald Henderson and junior guard Jon Scheyer followed with a 3-pointer each for a 29-14 lead.
"Great players make great plays," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "It (that flurry) kind of put us back on our heels."
The Seminoles, who initially tried to capitalize on their size advantage in the post, looked out of synch offensively and closed the half hitting just one field goal in the final 13:31 (they were 5-of-23 in the half overall) and trailed 35-21.
Henderson came out after halftime and hit two jumpers and a 3-pointer to push the lead to 17 points.
"My hand was (so close on the 3-pointer), I could have fouled him almost," said sophomore swingman Jordan DeMercy, who could only shake his head. "(I said), 'Boy. What do I have to do?' "
The Seminoles, who lost two hard-fought games to Duke during the year, rallied to within 42-36, but then Scheyer, the tournament most valuable player, got hot. He hit two 3-pointers, three free throws and a scoop shot for 11 of his game-high 29 points in a 5:50 span that saw Duke take command, 65-43.
FSU got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
"I'm really proud of them because you're a little bit tired, they're coming on and all of a sudden our guys just turned it on," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, adding he was especially thrilled for the juniors who hadn't won a title before.
That will be the challenge for FSU next week and, as Smith told Douglas:
"You've had a great year. Keep leading your team."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.