TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As far as the most improbable basketball upsets in Florida State history, this may rank at the very top.
Twice before an unranked Florida State team has knocked off a No. 1 Duke team at home (2002 and 2006), but in front of a rare sold-out crowd at the Donald Tucker Center on Wednesday night it happened again against the reigning national champions, who were not only riding a 25-game winning streak (dating back to last year) but came in as one of only five remaining undefeated teams in the nation.
Making this 66-61 upset even more shocking is that FSU (12-6, 2-1 ACC) was coming off two losses, including one of the most shocking losses of the nine-year Leonard Hamilton era, a 65-50 setback to a 7-8 Auburn team.
Nine days later, the Seminoles played arguably their best 40 minutes of the Hamilton era. They led for most of the first half and led by as much as 11 points in the second half. The Blue Devils (15-1, 2-1) cut the deficit to 59-58 on a Nolan Smith 3-pointer with 2:27 left, but on the next possession, FSU's Derwin Kitchen answered with a 3-pointer and the Seminoles then hit four straight free throws to seal the outcome.
Kitchen scored a season-high 22 points and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds while FSU's star forward Chris Singleton was the only other Seminole in double figures with 18.
Duke was held to a season-low 31 percent shooting from the field and was outscored in the paint 22-10. Blue Devil standouts Kyle Singler (20) and Nolan Smith (19) combined for 39 points, but the rest of the team was held to 21.
"Have you seen anybody play like that this year? Because we haven't," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They were that good. Tonight wasn't about us being bad. We were almost good enough to win the game. Tonight they were really good, really determined and played with an intensity on defense that was impressive. It was an impressive statement for their team."
Next for FSU is a home game on Saturday against NC State (11-5, 1-1), which had a five-game win streak snapped with a 75-66 loss at Boston College on Tuesday.
"In order for this to be meaningful we have to take care of business on Saturday," said Hamilton, whose 2005-06 squad failed to reach the NCAA Tournament despite knocking off No. 1 Duke 79-74 that season. "I told the kids in the locker room we have to come back and play and turn it up another notch and do it again the next week and the next week."
One explanation for the remarkable turnaround may have been the fact that FSU was playing its first home game in 28 days, a stretch that spanned seven road games and over 12,000 miles of travel (they played three games in Hawaii).
"I'm not sure I've played seven games away from home in my entire coaching career," Hamilton said. "It took its toll on us in some shape or form … Anytime you get a crowd behind you, you get a little tad of adrenaline rush and sometimes it can make the difference in a game."
The Seminoles were welcomed by their first sold-out crowd in two years and the normally mellow Civic Center was remarkably loud throughout. At the final buzzer, hundreds of students poured onto the court, engulfing the players and igniting a wild celebration.
"This was the best crowd we have had since I've been here," said Singleton. "It was crazy."
Playing without Singleton, FSU managed to hang with Duke for a pivotal four and half-minute stretch of the second half. With the Seminoles leading 45-42, Singleton picked up his fourth foul with 9:33 to go, thanks to some good acting from Duke star Kyle Singler, who fell to the floor despite little contact.
Hamilton took Singleton out. By the time he brought him back there was 5:57 left and the Seminoles had manged to extend their lead by one, 54-50.
Singleton hit a 3-pointer to give FSU a 59-54 lead and Kitchen hit a flurry of clutch shots down the stretch. Singleton and Michael Snear both hit a pair of free throws in the final minute to put FSU up 65-61. Duke then fired up three 3-point attempts that all fell off the mark.
Singleton shut down Duke star Kyle Singler in the first half, limiting him to two points on 0-of-5 shooting and five turnovers, but Singler hit five 3-pointers in the second half to spark the Blue Devils' comeback.
Neither team led by more than five points in the first half and the Seminoles closed the period on a 7-0 run that included a Kitchen 3-pointer and back-to-back layups from Bernard James to take a 28-24 lead at the half.
The Seminoles opened up the second half with a 12-5 run that gave them a 40-29 lead, their biggest advantage of the night.
Hamilton went with a bigger starting lineup, giving power forward Terrance Shannon his first career start and taking guard Deividas Dulkys, who has been stuck in a shooting slump, out of the starting lineup for the first time this season.
Duke is the first team in 10 games to outrebound FSU (38-35) and got a career-high 14 boards from Mason Plumlee.
The score was tied nine times and there were eight lead changes.
FSU guard Ian Miller missed his seventh straight game with a groin injury.
Former Duke guard Jon Scheyer, who was on their national title team last year, was in attendance.