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March 10, 2012
ATLANTA - With his jacket draped over one arm, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came into the Florida State locker room, sought out FSU guard Luke Loucks and shook his hand. The winningest coach in college basketball history turned the corner, found Michael Snaer settling into the cold tub and offered congratulations.
That act speaks to the kind of effort and the kind of win this was for Florida State.
It was Loucks' clutch jumpshot and Snaer's lockdown defense in the final 12 seconds that propelled the No. 17 Seminoles to a 62-59 win in the ACC semifinals on Saturday, a signature victory in a wild season over a Duke program that has owned this tournament for more than a decade. Florida State, the No. 3 seed, will chase its first-ever ACC title, as it takes on top-seeded and No. 4-ranked North Carolina Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
"I thought we grew up a little bit during that stretch when the game was in doubt," said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, whose team will advance to the conference title game for the second time in four seasons. It made me feel that these guys are growing up and learning what it's like to play in these types of games and be successful in them."
In a back-and-forth contest that saw 10 lead changes and eight ties, Duke (26-7) had made a final push, cutting what was once a 10-point FSU lead and turning it into a two point lead of its own with 3:39 to play. FSU took it back and held a slim 60-59 edge with 42.1 seconds left. That's when Loucks made his mark, pulling up and nailing a long two-point jumper from the wing with 12 seconds to give FSU (23-9) the 62-59 cushion.
The play, which came out of a timeout, was predicated on Loucks' decision to either find an open shooter or take the shot himself. Loucks said that the same play would normally have been drawn up for sharpshooter Ian Miller, but he had fouled out with 1:43 remaining.
Loucks decision, and Hamilton's reliance on his senior point guard, turned out to be a good one.
"They wanted Deividas (Dulkys) and Mike spotted up so I could create and find those guys," Loucks said. "But I felt like I had a decent look and went ahead and took it. I was pumped in the timeout when they were saying it - that it would be in my hands. Coach said just make the right decision, whatever that may be.
"Obviously that was a big moment for me for them to trust me in a late game situation with the ball in my hands."
"We needed one stop," Krzyzewski said. His team had won 10 of the past 13 ACC Tournaments entering this season. "And we just couldn't get that stop - they executed and we didn't stop. It was a heck of a game."
After the Loucks make, Duke got the ball in the hands of its best player, freshman phenom Austin Rivers. That's when Snaer would clamp down defensively and force a contested, unbalanced heave from three-point range.
"He's good, just a damn good player," Krzyzewski said of Snaer. "I think he's the best competitor in our league."
Duke would get one last prayer as Seth Curry's half-court heave hit rim, but careened away to ice the FSU win as time expired.
"I knew that we just had to keep executing and take the good opportunities then we'd have a chance and fortunately that's what we did," Hamilton said.
Snaer led the Seminoles with 16 points and six assists while center Bernard James scored 13 and added seven rebounds. The Seminoles flexed their muscle from the outset, playing at its slower tempo and forcing 14 Duke turnovers in the first half while taking a 33-31 lead into the break.
"In the first half, they just knocked us back," Krzyzewski said.
Hot outside shooting fueled Duke's 74-66 win in Tallahassee last month, but the Seminoles adjusted this time out, holding the Blue Devils to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and just a 5 of 20 effort from 3-point range.
"We did a great job defending the three-point line and I was really proud of how guys got out and contested shots," Snaer said.
Make no mistake, it was a win that will bolster FSU's standing in the league. It's a performance that put the Seminoles in better standing come NCAA Tournament time, and on this stage, it will serve as a badge of credibility for a program on the rise.
It was also effort enough to earn the ultimate sign of respect - a special visit with one of the game's greats.
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