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February 4, 2007

Early lead lost, Duke drops second straight

Duke couldn't hold a late lead at Virginia Thursday night, and Sunday the Blue Devils couldn't hold an early lead as Florida State rallied past Duke for a 68-67 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils raced out to a 27-10 first half lead behind the hot shooting hand of point guard Greg Paulus, but first half foul trouble opened the door for the Seminoles to narrow the gap in the final minutes of the opening half and ultimately win for the first time in program history at Duke.

Josh McRoberts and DeMarcus Nelson had two great opportunities to win at the buzzer, but McRoberts couldn't find the mark on a spinning layup opportunity in the lane, and Nelson's offensive rebound tip attempt was just a hair strong as the final horn sounded.

"That was as difficult a loss as you could have just because there was so much adversity in the game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Our kids came out so ready to play...In the second half [FSU] had more momentum. They are a very athletic, strong team, and they made shots. They made some difficult shots."

With both McRoberts and Lance Thomas sent to the bench with three fouls at the 5:30 mark in the first half and Duke leading 29-20, Florida State closed the half by outscoring Duke 13-7 and trailed just 36-33 at intermission.

The second half included several lead changes and various momentum surges, but all appeared to be in Florida State's favor when an offensive rebound putback by Ryan Reid gave the Seminoles a 68-62 advantage with 3:20 remaining.

However, Florida State wouldn't score again the rest of the way and left the door open numerous times for Duke to overcome the deficit and pull out a victory.

Paulus, who scored a game high 23 points, made one of two free throws to cut the lead to five points and then DeMarcus Nelson canned a jumper after a Seminole turnover.

That turnover likely set the stage for a technical foul called on Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.

Florida State's Jason Rich was whistled for stepping on the sideline in front of the Seminole bench, causing Hamilton to be visibly upset as it appeared he felt like Rich had been pushed out of bounds by Nelson.

Krzyzewski called a timeout immediately after the jumper by Nelson cut the lead to three, and as the teams moved toward the bench for the timeout Hamilton was called for a technical foul.

Jon Scheyer hit both free throws for the Blue Devils to cut the lead to one point, but neither team could convert on the game's remaining possessions.

Nelson missed jumpers on consecutive possessions after the technical free throws, but Florida State wasn't having any success either.

When David McClure secured his team leading sixth rebound with 34 seconds remaining, Duke had possession of the ball needing only one basket to retake the lead and potentially win the game.

The Blue Devils ran an initial set without success and called timeout with 7.7 seconds on the clock.

Out of the timeout, Paulus quickly drove to the basket but missed a contested layup. The fierce battle for the rebound was initially won by Reid, but he was tied up as he landed back on the floor and the ball went back to Duke on the alternate possession arrow.

That set the stage for the painful closing sequence when McRoberts and Nelson couldn't buy a basket.

"The ball was right there, twice," Krzyzewski said of the final play. "When you miss a shot, you miss it. When you miss a couple and it bounces, it's agonizing. And that's the way the game is, just a little bounce. The last two games have been really tough losses for us."

ACC Player of the Year candidate Al Thornton had his second straight big game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the Seminole win.

Toney Douglas and Uche Echefu also reached double figures for Florida State, with Douglas hitting a trio of big three point shots to help the Seminoles get over the hump.

Nelson and McRoberts scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, to join Paulus in double figures.

The loss drops Duke to 5-4 in the ACC, and means the Blue Devils will take a two game losing streak into Wednesday night's showdown with North Carolina.

"We just have to get our bearings straight and go after it again and keep fighting," Krzyzewski said.


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