DURHAM, N.C. -- Florida State was looking to repeat history at Cameron Indoor by defeating Duke on its home court for the second consecutive time. However, Gerald Henderson wasn't having any of it. The junior guard scored nine of his 21 points in the final 2 minutes to help No. 7 Duke (25-5, 11-4 ACC) beat No. 24 Florida State 84-81 on Tuesday night.
Florida State (22-8, 9-6) got off to a fast start and led 40-34 at the half. That lead disappeared with 13:30 remaining in the game on a layup by Kyle Singler to put Duke up 50-48.
"I thought we lost our composure there in the beginning of the second half, not necessarily our composure but our defensive focus in the beginning of the second half," Hamilton said. "We lost the momentum and it was very hard to get the momentum back."
The two teams traded the lead numerous times down the stretch. Momentum appeared to turn in FSU's favor with 6:39 remaining when Solomon Alabi dunked the ball to put the 'Noles up 64-63. The momentum shift wouldn't last long though as FSU's freshman center was whistled for a technical foul for "unsportsmanlike contact". The play resulted in a three-point swing for the Blue Devils and put them ahead once again.
Florida State though would battle back again. ACC Player of the Year candidate Toney Douglas, who led all scorers with 27 points, hit consecutive three-pointers including one from the right wing to put FSU back in front 76-74 with 2:25 remaining.
Henderson's hot shooting late in the game combined with Alabi fouling out was too much for FSU to overcome. When the dust settled Blue Devils were able to pull out the three-point victory.
"We were able to scrap and claw and find a way to score," Hamilton said. "We just had a couple of bad stretches there where they played a little better offense than we did defense. They forced us into about two or three possessions where we turned the ball over and they made us pay on the other end. You can't do that against a very good team like Duke and we came up a little short."
While the Seminoles were unable to stop Henderson down the stretch, some will point to Alabi's technical as a turning point in the close contest. However, FSU's head coach was not in the mood to play the blame game after the loss.
"You can point to that if you want to, I think we just didn't do a good enough job defending them," Hamilton said. "I have a whole lot I could say. That play was a big play, there is no doubt about that. I saw it differently. … That was a key play during that particular time, I wish we could have avoided it and maybe the outcome would have been a little different."
"That is college basketball," Hamilton added. "You have three guys out there officiating, they saw it one way - one guy saw it one way - and unfortunately we were the ones that came out on the wrong end of that."
Senior Uche Echefu matched a season high with 18 points (14 in the first half) and added 11 rebounds. And before he fouled out, Alabi also managed a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
By coming up short, the 'Noles missed out on an opportunity to record consecutive victories over ranked teams. The last time Leonard Hamilton's team managed that was back in the 2003-04 season. Nevertheless, the Seminoles fought hard and played toe-to-two with a top 10 team on the road for all of 40 minutes.
"We kept fighting back but we came up a little short," Hamilton said. "Hopefully our young team learned from this."
Hamilton wasn't the only one pleased with his young's team ability to push the Blue Devils to the brink.
"I am real pleased with my teammates and what they showed out there on the court tonight," Douglas said. "We played them on their Senior Night, they are a veteran basketball team, and we kept our composure sometimes when they made runs. I was really impressed with (my teammates)."
Florida State, which won its previous visit to Cameron in 2007, has a final chance to reach double figures in ACC wins for the first time since 2003-04 season this Sunday at home against Virginia Tech.