Florida State has more to show for home victories over Top 10 teams North Carolina and Wake Forest, but Thursday night's 56-49 loss at No. 1 Duke may benefit the Seminoles more in the long run.
After looking out of sorts in a first half that saw them fall behind by double digits, the Seminoles (14-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) buckled down defensively and gave the Blue Devils (17-1, 6-0) their first scare in nearly two months.
FSU held Duke without a field goal for 8:54 late in the second half to inch closer, pulling within 51-49 on freshman Von Wafer's 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining.
It was at that point that the Seminoles freshmen, after having shaken off first-half jitters to lead the comeback, let them down.
Center Alexander Johnson, who scored his eight in the second half, ran from Duke guard Chris Duhon in the left corner, leaving the senior with an open look at a 3-pointer, which he sank with 34.6 seconds to play. It was the Blue Devils' first basket in nearly nine minutes.
After a timeout, Wafer threw an ill-advised inbounds in the direction of Adam Waleskowski, and Duke's Sean Dockery got there first. The Seminoles' next possession also ended in a turnover, effectively ending hopes of a third consecutive upset.
"We played hard and we competed well," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "Great players make great plays, and he (Duhon) made a big shot."
That was especially so given that points were at such a premium. Duke hadn't scored fewer than 68, and FSU's total was four fewer than it managed in an ugly five-point loss at Clemson on Jan. 13.
"The defenses won tonight," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It was like a 7-3 football game, and thank God we had the seven."
This one got away from FSU in a 50-second stretch of the first half in which it went from being down five to down 13. Twice the Seminoles lost track of Duke sharpshooter J.J. Redick, who sank consecutive 3-pointers, the second after a turnover. Seconds later, another turnover _ FSU finished with 17 to the Blue Devils' 12 _ produced a Duhon layup and prompted a timeout from Hamilton.
"When you have a turnover, it's tough to get matched up," Hamilton said. "There were times when we were in (Redick's) face and he still made them."
Redick, the ACC's top 3-pointer shooter at 56 percent going in, finished with 24 points, half coming on 3s. The only other Duke player in double figures was Duhon with 11.
Tim Pickett had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Seminoles but made 6 of 15 shots. Andrew Wilson added nine points for FSU, and Wafer matched Johnson with eight.
"We had too many empty offensive trips in the first half and that caught up to us in the second," Hamilton said. "We don't have much margin for error offensively, and they kept us from getting what we wanted in the first half. In the second half I thought we got good looks, but we just didn't make them."
The Seminoles get a breather from conference play 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center against Savannah State.