No. 4 Duke outlasts No. 24 Florida State

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Duke used a late push to outlast No. 24 Florida State on Saturday afternoon as the No. 4 Blue Devils raced to a 100-93 ACC home. Despite battling foul trouble, cold perimeter shooting and an inconsistent defensive effort, Duke made enough plays down the stretch to finish off the pesky Seminoles.

Freshman big man Marvin Bagley III had a ridiculous outing with 32 points and 21 rebounds to pace the Blue Devils while freshman point guard Trevon Duval (16 points) made a lot of key plays on both ends of the floor to close out the game.

1. Duke’s offense can still put up ridiculous numbers despite cold shooting

Duke put up 100 points against a top-20 defense while only shooting 8-for-30 from three-point range.

The Blue Devils never seemed to get comfortable from beyond the arc on Saturday. We’ve seen stretches this season where Duke goes cold from three-point range. You also have to factor that the Blue Devils had only played one game since Dec. 9 and rust might have been at play.

But despite the cold shooting, Duke’s offense still got rolling and looked unstoppable at times. Offensive rebounding was the huge key for Duke’s sustained offensive success on Saturday. Bagley (11 offensive rebounds) and fellow freshman Wendell Carter Jr. (seven offensive rebounds) seemingly cleaned up every Duke miss as the Blue Devils had 23 offensive rebounds.

Considering that the Seminoles have a lot of depth while Duke is mostly trotting out the same five players and that sustained effort on the glass from the Blue Devils is very impressive.

If Duke is making perimeter looks, good luck stopping this team. But even if they’re not finding consistent success with the deep ball, this offense still has many other ways to beat you. It’s part of the reason Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country.

2. Duke’s defense is still a work-in-progress

One of the major developments to track for Duke this season has been its inconsistent defense. Saturday saw more ups and downs from the Blue Devils as this team is still trying to find its defensive identity.

Giving up 93 points to the Seminoles is a bit of an eye-opener. But this game was also played at a very fast pace with players like Phil Cofer (28 points) and Braian Angola (23 points) getting red-hot during certain stretches to carry the Florida State offense.

Duke’s defense still looked shaky at times — especially contesting perimeter jumpers from hot shooters — but they put together a strong final few minutes to secure this win. Florida State missed its final six shots to end the contest as the Blue Devil defense came through when it mattered most. Four starters were playing with four fouls for Duke but that didn’t seem to compromise much of the group’s intensity during the final stretch. Carter did a nice job of taking a key late charge and a rejuvenated Duval seemed to be flying all over the perimeter.

The Blue Devils still have issues with good perimeter shooting and teams who can take either Bagley or Carter away from the basket. But as long as Duke can defend in stretches like they did to close on Saturday, their offense can generally take care of the rest.

3. Just how good is Florida State?

We know Florida State is pretty good. At least we think they’re pretty good. The Seminoles were one of the final teams to remain unbeaten this season and they own an impressive road win at Florida. That’s also easily the most impressive win that Florida State has at this point.  A road win at Rutgers is arguably Florida State’s second best win. They have recent losses to Oklahoma State and now to the Blue Devils.

So how good is Florida State? It’s seriously very hard to answer that question at this point in the season. We can likely pencil this group into the NCAA tournament, for now, but where do the Seminoles rank in the ACC pecking order? Going toe-to-toe with Duke on the road is encouraging but Florida State also hasn’t done a whole lot yet when it comes to quality wins.

Cofer finished with a career-high 28 points on Saturday, as he has elevated his play to another level over the last several weeks. Angola is also capable of taking over a game on the offensive end if he gets rolling with the jumper. And although Terance Mann only attempted six field goals against Duke (a staggeringly low number for a team’s leading scorer against a top-five opponent) he’s also a noted offensive presence who was shooting over 63 percent from the floor entering Saturday’s game.

Florida State has weapons. They have depth. They have athleticism. Now comes the time when the Seminoles need to start winning games against quality competition. The next stretch will be key for Florida State. The Seminoles now get a chance to face North Carolina and Miami the next two games — two top-15 teams. Florida State needs to win one of those games to stay in the ACC race, otherwise they risk starting league play at 0-3 and putting themselves in a major hole.