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'Noles hoping for a clean second shot at Duke

For Florida State junior forward Alexander Johnson, it was a sequence, a matter of seconds, he wouldn't soon forget or readily put behind him.

With 9:23 left and his team down just 67-64 at Duke on Feb. 4, Johnson was called for an intentional foul on Shelden Williams. The Duke star jumped off the floor and confronted Johnson, who appeared to back away. Still, the officials hit both players with technical fouls.

It was the fifth and final foul for Johnson.

In his absence, Williams dominated inside to help the Blue Devils eke out a 97-96 overtime win.

"I wanted to be a part of that game," Johnson said. "I know my team needed me to be a little threat there inside. They called that foul on me, and that stuck with me for a while. It hurt because I knew it was a big game."

At the time, the Seminoles needed a signature win, and putting Duke's name on the dotted line of their NCAA Tournament resume would have stood out like John Hancock's.

It didn't ease Johnson's pain any that the ACC subsequently suspended the officiating crew a game for incorrectly calling the technical on him, or that the NCAA men's basketball committee will discuss that situation as it selects the 34 at-large teams.

"As time went on, I just put it behind me," Johnson said, "knowing there was going to be another day."

That day is here as the top-ranked Blue Devils (27-1, 14-0) come to the Donald L. Tucker Center for a nationally televised game tonight against the Seminoles (17-8, 7-7), who, as they were a month ago, are desperately seeking a big win.

"Right now, even though we've played well and in our minds, we're good enough and we're one of the top 64 teams in the country," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said, "we still have not necessarily captivated the imagination of those people who vote."

A win against Duke, No. 1 in the RPI, would help the Seminoles' cause.

"We're going to expect their best shot," Williams said.

That's nothing new for the Blue Devils. But Williams acknowledged the call that perhaps altered the previous meeting might also be a factor for the home team.

"I guess they will use it as motivation to get back at us," he said.

But it wasn't just that call that irked the Seminoles. Officials hit Duke with 15 fouls, just more than half as many as they called on FSU (28). Duke made 31 of 43 free throws, and the Seminoles were 10-of-11. Fans and even pundits have argued that Duke, thanks to coach Mike Krzyzewski, gets more than the benefit of the doubt from officials.

Can a coach make that kind of difference?

No, insists Coach K.

"An official cannot allow that to happen," Krzyzewski said. "He's got to be influenced only by what's happening out on the court. That's why they're professionals. I never look at talking to a referee as working a ref. I think it's one of the worst phrases that can ever be made because I don't think that's what happens. What you're trying to do is find out why something is being done or explain your situation. It's not a matter of working; it's a matter of an explanation."

Of course, that afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Hamilton couldn't have liked the explanations he received as he worked, er, discussed the situation with the refs.

But he had to put that behind him, as did his players.

Over time, anyway.

"It's something that definitely comes to mind," FSU junior forward Al Thornton, who had 37 points that day, said of the critical technical. "It was questionable, but we had all the opportunity in the world to win the game. We missed shots and made some mistakes, so you can't blame the referees. This is a big game. It's Senior Night, and this is a much-needed game for us to reach our dreams and take another step in the right direction to get to the NCAA Tournament."