For Duke at this point in the season, boring is good. No late drama or foul trouble to test Duke's six-man rotation, even if it was effectively seven Thursday night. No one limping off the court. Just an old-fashioned, eyeball-glazing 80-65 win over Florida State.
There haven't been many of those for Duke lately. Win or lose, the Blue Devils have been absorbed in drama: blowing a big lead without Matt Jones at Louisville, roaring back to beat North Carolina, winning at the last second against Virginia, holding off a late Louisville surge in the game here. Coach Mike Krzyzewski watching the Georgia Tech game from home. And so on.
After all that, Thursday was a little different for Duke.
“It was very nice,” Grayson Allen said. “That was pretty much our message at the beginning of the second half, to finish the game right. Thankfully it wasn't another one-possession game.”
Which isn't to say it was easy – or, rather, it probably looked easier than it was. Krzyzewski said the emotion required to win the past five games has taken a toll, and it took everything Duke had to maintain the lead against Florida State.
“You could tell,” Kryzewski said. “It was almost like you had a 15-round fight and we couldn't knock them out. We won enough rounds to win the fight and we have to be careful not to get knocked out. That's a game where you can get knocked out.”
That's happened to Duke this year. The Blue Devils have somehow carved out a strange niche – unquestionably talented, yet sitting in the back half of the top 25 thanks to the Blue Devils' depth issues and youth and Amile Jefferson's injury, none of which turned out to be an issue Thursday.
The timetable for Jefferson's potential return remains clear as mud. A picture of Duke players huddled in a subterranean tunnel after practice was interrupted by Wednesday's tornado warning, with Jefferson in full uniform sans walking boot, raised hopes his return from a broken foot was somehow closer. But Jefferson has been practicing for a few weeks, only to get back in the boot afterward. As long as he feels pain, his return is not imminent.
Thursday, at least, Chase Jeter helped fill that void. A four-minute stretch of the first half was his best in a Blue Devil uniform, even if it only amounted to three points and four rebounds. In that moment, while the students chanted his name, it was possible to see how Jeter was a top-15 recruit, but he has a long way to go to prove he can do that consistently, and against an opponent less vulnerable than Florida State.
The Seminoles were custom-made to boost Jeter's confidence, without the kind of post bulk that could give him trouble, not to mention surprisingly poor collectively on defense. Leonard Hamilton's best teams have been his most experienced, if not his most talented, and when he has both – Michael Snaer's junior year, most notably – the Seminoles are dangerous.
This is Florida State's fourth straight season without a defense that ranks in the top 50 in defensive efficiency, thanks to a backcourt of sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes and freshmen Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon that's offensively explosive but still absorbing Hamilton's defensive tutelage, to say the least. (And like Duke in recent years, playing an unusual amount of zone to paper over the cracks.) And yet that collection of raw talent gives the Seminoles a chance to beat anyone and everyone in Washington – just not in Durham on Thursday.
“The pressure of playing all these close games can get tough,” Duke's Luke Kennard said. “It can be emotionally tiring.”
It wasn't an issue Thursday – and if Duke's reserves of emotion are as tapped as Krzyzewski and his players say they are, that's probably a good thing for the Blue Devils.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock