Mike Krzyzewski, he of the four national championships, Olympic gold medal and Hall of Fame induction, came to seek out Florida State guard Michael Snaer before he left the arena to board Duke's bus. Snaer had just stepped into an ice bath, and was moaning and groaning about the cold with his back to the door when he got a pat on the back from Coach K. "Nice game," Krzyzewski told him. "Great job. Keep it up."
Snaer had been told at the FSU press conference that Krzyzewski had complimented him there as well, but to get a personal visit clearly had an impact.
"To get the comments from Coach K., it is a dream come true," Snaer said smiling, brushing off the icy water for the moment. "That is a legendary coach. I'm blessed to be in the situation I'm in. I'm blessed to have the skills I have and the team I have."
The team Snaer has will have an opportunity to win Florida State's first ACC tournament on Sunday because it survived a physical, 40-minute war with Duke thanks in part to Snaer's defensive tenacity ("He never gets tired," Coach K said) and team-high 16 points. It was Snaer who denied Austin Rivers a clean look from three with Duke trailing 62-59 with six seconds left. Rivers missed an off-balance three and the ball belonged to Florida State with three seconds on the clock.
Duke forced a bad pass on the inbound, however, and after a scramble midcourt, Curry came up with the ball and launched a shot just inside midcourt. After the game, Curry, Krzyzewski and Florida State's Luke Loucks all said they thought it was going in, but the ball drew only iron and there would be no overtime.
Duke was forced to go for a three because Loucks had drained an icy 18-footer with 11.9 seconds left over big man Josh Hairston, who was caught in a switch.
"He gave me enough room to get off a decent shot, and fortunately for me and for the team, it went in," Loucks said.
It was the final counterpunch by the Seminoles, who had to hold off a determined Duke rally in the second half. The Devils were just 1-for-10 from three after halftime, but as they've done repeatedly this season, they seemed to will their way back into the game thanks mostly to Rivers (17 points) and Curry (13 points). But Florida State would not fold, with Snaer and Bernard James coming up with big plays. In the final 6:56 of the game, neither team led by more than three points, so it was appropriate the game was inches from overtime.
"It was a heck of a game," Krzyzewski said. "Our guys played winning basketball, and when you lose playing winning basketball, just shake hands and thank God that there is at least one more game ahead."
Krzyzewski was referring to the NCAA tournament, a place NC State is very hopeful to land after its two wins and heart-wrenching loss to North Carolina. State had the ball with the scored tied 67-67 and 52 seconds left against the Heels, but Alex Johnson and Lorenzo Brown then had a miscommunication, and Johnson harmlessly threw the ball out of bounds near midcourt for an unforced turnover.
"I just turned my head to check my man, and when I turned my head, he passed me the ball," Brown said.
UNC took advantage, as Kendall Marshall banked in a shot after narrowly avoiding a charging call on Johnson.
"In the game of basketball, they are not going to call a ticky-tack call like that," said Marshall, who had 12 points and 10 assists but did not play one of his typically clean games.
NC State rushed up the floor, and DeShawn Painter was briefly open under the basket, but Scott Wood fired a pass to him too late, allowing Justin Watts to corral a steal and fire the ball all the way into the backcourt, wasting all but 1.2 seconds.
"I just saw a guy doing jumping jacks out of the corner of my eye," said Watts, who was guarding Brown on the play. "It would have been an easy dunk. Luckily I got there in time."
Because he did, North Carolina was able to advance despite the absence of John Henson, who sat with a bad left wrist. Henson is questionable for the final, though coach Roy Williams seemed to hint postgame that Henson may be closer to doubtful than questionable. When Henson's replacement, freshman James Michael McAdoo, picked up his fourth foul with 17:40 to play, Carolina was thin up front, and N.C. State took advantage, driving to the hoop with big men C.J. Leslie (22 points) and Richard Howell (11 points). But Leslie picked up his fourth and fifth fouls within 32 seconds and was gone with 8:03 to play, leaving NC State to carry on without its top player. But the Wolfpack somehow erased a six-point deficit before falling on the game's final possession.
"Right now, we feel very fortunate, to say the least," Williams said. "If you want to put lucky in there, you can say that as well."
Williams and North Carolina will have a chance to gain some revenge on Sunday for the worst loss in the Williams era at North Carolina, a 90-57 wipeout at Florida State in January. Deividas Dulkys had 32 points in that game and UNC was not within 20 points for the final 15 minutes of the game.
"We can't think it's going to be easy or that we're going to beat them by 30," Snaer said. "It's North Carolina, and it's not going to be easy. That's what it's going to come down to: Who's the toughest? Who's the most focused?"