After Duke walked off the court and settled into the locker room with a 73-70 win at Florida State, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski came back. He had something he forgot to say.
“The play of the game is his, all right,” he said, pointing to Matt Jones as the chatter quieted. “And he didn’t have – did you have a good game?” he said as he turned to Jones.
Jones quickly said no, as Krzyzewski continued.
“He had a horrible game. But he made the play of the game,” Krzyzewski said.
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Jones’ teammates started clapping as Krzyzewski dipped back into the coaches’ locker room.
The play Krzyzewski was referring to was a charge Jones took during the final two minutes, as the Seminoles’ Montay Brandon came barreling at him down the lane. The Seminoles were down 68-64, and that play temporarily halted their momentum. Tyus Jones would sink a floater on the ensuing possession – points Duke would need as the Seminoles cut the deficit to 70-69 with 11.9 seconds left.
That’s when Quinn Cook was fouled, and the senior, who has made 92 percent of his free throws this season, stepped to the line with chants of “overrated” ringing in his ear.
He made both.
“I think he has been our most valuable guy,” Krzyzewski said of Cook. “He has not only been a good player, a really good player, but he’s been a great leader. And our guys follow him. He has been one of my better leaders that I have had at Duke. I didn’t know that that would happen this year. Of all the guys, I’m most proud of him.”
Cook’s two free throws gave Duke a 72-69 lead with 9.7 seconds left. Krzyzewski called timeout and had Justise Winslow foul Devon Bookert as he was crossing halfcourt. Bookert then went 1-of-2 from the line.
Even then, though, it wasn’t quite done, as Cook only made one of two free throws. So Florida State had one last chance with five seconds left, and Krzyzewski had his team foul again while ahead by three. Bookert couldn’t continue the run, missing both free throws (the second intentionally), and time expired.
The No. 4 Blue Devils (21-3, 8-3 ACC) will take the win. Cook finished with a season-high 26 points. Tyus Jones added 16 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. Jahlil Okafor finished with 13 points – 11 of which came in the second half (he scored eight of Duke’s first 10 points to open the final 20 minutes).
Florida Sate (13-12, 5-7) continues the season-long trend of teams from the bottom half of the league pushing the teams at the top.
“Coming close doesn’t count unless you’re playing horseshoes,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Battle and fighting references generally are overdone in sports, but Duke’s win certainly featured plenty of physical play.
Defenders were constantly clutching players on the perimeter. Hard contact under the basket, several times leaving players slow to get up, went without a whistle. It made for an uneven, and at times downright ugly, game.
If Duke’s win Saturday against No. 10 Notre Dame was the equivalent of a masterpiece on offense, then, aesthetically speaking, the first half against Florida State looked more like a crayon drawing by a 4-year-old. It took the Blue Devils 6 minutes, 17 seconds to finally get on the board – but they just trailed 5-2 after Okafor’s two free throws.
Those were Okafor’s only points of the half, as he picked up his second foul with 11:32 left in the half and sat on the bench the rest of the way.
“I thought he got beaten up today, man,” Krzyzewski said of Okafor. “People are just grabbing him. Well, he’s initiating contact – he’s not initiating that contact. Any way. You’re right there in the end zone, you can see it. He gets beat up a lot. He really gets beat up a lot. And then we’re sitting with him on the bench. Kind of nuts.”
After Okafor sat down, though, the Blue Devils went on a 12-0 run. After taking 6:17 to finally score, Duke scored 17 points in the next 5:11 (that was the start of an 18-for-23 stretch from the field that lasted until the 15:09 mark of the second). Cook and Tyus Jones started pushing the tempo, getting points before the Seminoles’ half-court defense could get set.
The Blue Devils continued to be streaky shooters into the second. After Cook’s 3 put Duke ahead 45-31 five minutes into the second, Duke then went into a 1-for-11 shooting funk.
Then two 3s from the right corner on back-to-back possessions from Tyus Jones and Winslow again gave Duke some breathing room, at 61-52, with 6:52 left. A few possessions later, Cook hit another 3 from the same spot to put Duke back ahead by 10 with 5:38 left. The Blue Devils would last have a double-digit margin at the 4:19 mark, when Winslow sank two free throws to make it a 68-57 lead.
That’s when the Seminoles charged, not stopping until Brandon collided with Matt Jones.
“I saw a 4-on-1 coming at me,” Jones said. “I saw them coming full speed, so I was like, ‘I’m going to sit here and take it.
“We work on situations like that in practice, and coach always tells us to go to the middle of the arc, and then let them come to you and be wide. Practice makes perfect.”