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Florida State Upsets No. 5 Duke: 3 Game-Changing Plays

The 'Noles are one of if not the hottest team in the ACC right now.

Death. Taxes. Florida State winning in overtime. 

Allow me to be a fan in the moment for just a second. I've been waiting for FSU to win a game like this against Duke. They've been so close the last few years. The Reddish buzzer-beater. Trent Forrest's 8-steal game aka the Cylinder Call game. The ACC Championship. FSU has come so close, so many times to let it slip away at the end. 

We were close to getting it again tonight. FSU dominated the majority of the second half and was at one point up 59-50 with 6:52 remaining. The game could've been over right there. Florida State's defense was keeping Banchero from getting the ball, the offense was doing just enough to keep Duke at arm's length away, but it never felt like they entirely put it away. There was a three or four-possession stretch where FSU was one more made basket away from blowing the roof off of the building. It just never came. 

Then Duke went zone. And Florida State's zone offense went back to being borderline terrible, making just one field goal across the last 6 minutes when Duke went zone. FSU found themselves down 69-67 in the final minute, before Duke switched back to man, and it was all FSU needed to see. FSU found ways to score in overtime, but it was blow for blow the entire way, led mostly by Caleb Mills. It was RayQuan Evans again though that would score the game's winning points, and FSU would hold on defense to win 79-78. 

The impact of this one can't be overstated. FSU needed a quality win. The losses to Syracuse and South Carolina had put them in a position to make up for those losses. Nothing like a win against Duke to make up for it. I'd been saying since the beginning of the season, it's going to take a while for this team to come together. Give it to January. Well, here we are on January 19th with 4 straight wins against Duke, Syracuse, Miami, and Louisville, and sitting 2nd in the ACC Standings. There's still plenty to learn and improve upon, but you'd rather learn from a win than a loss. 

This extends FSU's NCAA Record of consecutive OT wins to 13 straight, which is an incredible number. 

Before getting to the plays, some box score notes. 

duke box

Wow, there is a lot that jumps off of the page here. First, is the turnover differential. This was my number one key heading into the game, and FSU dominated that facet of the game. 15-5. Duke entered the game as one of the 10 best teams in the country in taking care of the ball, averaging 9.9 turnovers per game and a turnover rate of just 13.9%, yet in Tallahassee, they coughed it up 15 times for a turnover rate of 21.4%. I'm sure the 'Noles would've preferred to have a few more points off of those turnovers, but that's for another day. 

Secondly, HOLY offensive rebounds. 19 offensive rebounds is the most Duke has allowed since playing UNC in March 2016. And when you consider the quality in bigs that Duke has in Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams, it really speaks to FSU's effort on the offensive glass. They were sending two guys to the glass on every shot attempt, trying to gain any extra offense that they could. And they needed it. FSU only shot 36% from the floor. The fact they did that while Duke shot 49% is a testament to how good FSU was on the offensive glass, and to the turnovers forced. Also, making 20/25 free throws is a huge win for this team. Had Matthe Cleveland not gone 0/3... never mind I won't say it. 

This wasn't a game about shot-making for most of the game for FSU. They were 4/9 from 3 in the first half, which helped them keep the pace, but were just 1/12 from 3 in the second half; a crazy statistic to comprehend when you consider FSU dominated for 15 minutes in the second half without making 3s. 

I noted in the preview that FSU has been purposely slowing games down, with the last three games having 69 or fewer possessions. This was an overtime game and only had 71 possessions. FSU has found something with these slower-paced games and it'd led to straight wins. 

Despite scoring 79 points, Florida State only had two players in double figures: Caleb Mills and John Butler. Mills struggled for the majority of the night, shooting just 2/15 in regulation, but was money from the free-throw line, going 6/6 from the stripe alone in the second half. He finally woke up in OT, scoring 8 of FSU's 12 OT points with two 3s. He'd finished with a team-high 18 points, while also adding 2 steals and 2 blocks, including this unbelievable one that I had to cut from the game-changing plays. Vicious. 

Butler was extremely valuable in the first half, hitting three 3s on his way to a career-high 14 points, and adding two rebounds and two blocks. He played solid defense on Banchero for most of the night and is proving to be a much more valuable piece early in his career than I thought he'd be. 

RayQuan Evans may have only had 6 points, but he had the 4 biggest: the layup at the end of regulation to force overtime, and 2 free throws with 12 seconds left in OT to take a 1-point lead. He has become FSU's go-to player in crunch time, which may be surprising when you consider his overall play. He's not your prototypical go-to guy in these moments, but he can get to the basket, and is calm, cool, and collected. Evans also added 3 steals. 

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One more player to note on is Naheem McLeod. I really cannot say enough about his development this season. He's given the team a vertical threat they haven't had, yet desperately needed this season. He finished with career highs with 9 points and 7 rebounds, 6 of those on the offensive glass, while also being a team-high +9 in 11 minutes. He needs to play more. 

For Duke, Paolo Banchero was held in check for most of the night, though you wouldn't know it by his final stats. Up until late in the second half, he'd only had 4 shot attempts. He's never played a team that was as aggressive fronting the post as FSU is, and they wanted him playing out on the perimeter. Once he started getting the ball, he couldn't stop. Banchero finished with 20 points, his 4th straight game with 20 while adding 12 rebounds, and 7 assists. He's such an imposing player, but FSU held him in check for a vast majority of the game, despite his stat line. 

Mark Williams only plays about 20 minutes per game, and hadn't played more than 28 in a game all season. He ended up playing 34 minutes and finishing with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. It felt like he had a bigger impact than that, just given the plays he made down the stretch in both regulation and overtime. 

Wendell Moore had a solid game with 13 points but was held to just 2 assists, which really limited his impact on the overall game. When he's getting everyone else involved, it makes the team that much more dangerous. 

Onto the plays!

Play 1

Scenario: Evans to OT

I can somewhat understand why Duke went back to man-to-man for this possession, but to me, they outsmarted themselves. FSU had a play drawn up for a zone-beater, and Duke knows that. But FSU had only scored one field goal against Duke's zone in the last 6 minutes of regulation. Instead, you let RayQuan Evans isolate and score a really impressive layup over the top of the defense. Look how high that ball hits on the backboard. I think if given the chance again, Duke stays in zone for this possession. 

I honestly thought in the moment that Evans went too late, but he went at the perfect time and finished over the potential 1st Overall pick in the next NBA draft. Unreal finish. 

Play 2

Scenario: Mills Heat Check

Caleb Mills is such a confident player. He was 4/16 heading into this shot, yet calmy steps into a transition 3 and drains it. This would set up FSU being able to trade blows and take the lead the following offensive sequence instead of going for the tie. Mills didn't have the greatest of nights, but he stepped up when the team needed him most. 

Play 3

Scenario: Defense Ends It

I am very surprised Duke didn't take a timeout before this to draw something up. Instead, they get Wendell Moore driving across the lane, into traffic, and trying to take a shot over 7'1" John Butler. Just two baffling decisions by Duke's coaching staff at the end of regulation and OT, and it arguably cost them the game. The phenomenal defense here by Butler though, and then FSU's quick hands force the ball out. Then it's party time in Tallahassee. 

Florida State has an extremely quick turnaround, only getting about 36 hours of rest before having to play UNF on Thursday at noon, then they travel to Miami on Saturday, which is unbelievably for 1st place in the ACC.