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Saturday, January 21, 2012
Florida State suddenly in ACC title race

By Andy Katz

Florida State couldn’t contend for the ACC title if it didn’t knock off North Carolina and Duke.

The Seminoles did just that in an eight-day stretch that will long be remembered in Tallahassee.

“We have a chance,’’ said Michael Snaer, who hit the buzzer-beating 3 in FSU's 76-73 win at No. 4 Duke on Saturday. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We knew this was a big game for us, but now every game after is even bigger and we’ve got to bring it.’’

Florida State's Michael Snaer and Ian Miller celebrate after Snaer's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat No. 4 Duke on Saturday.
That's true. But the Seminoles have changed the game in the ACC with a season-altering week.

Florida State stunned North Carolina last Saturday by 33 points. The Seminoles then handled Maryland by 14 before traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Blue Devils had won 45 in a row and 64 straight against unranked opponents.

That all ended when Snaer hit a 3-pointer on a feed from Luke Loucks at the buzzer, after Duke’s Austin Rivers had tied the game on a layup with 4.9 seconds left.

“I just made a wide-open shot, anyone could do it,’’ Snaer said. “[The pass] was on point. [Loucks] did a great job of pushing the ball up the court.

“This has just been a great week for our program. We’re playing our best basketball right now. Guys are finding their roles and we understand what it takes to win a game. We’ve gained some momentum.’’

Remember, this is the same FSU team that lost to Princeton at home and to Harvard in the Bahamas. To start ACC play, the Seminoles lost by 20 at Clemson.

And that’s why FSU coach Leonard Hamilton was reluctant to get too excited about his team even after beating UNC. He said last Saturday he needed to see how the Noles would handle success against Maryland and Duke.

The answer pleased him.

“We have a chance to be pretty good if we keep understanding how we have to play together,’’ Hamilton said. “We’re trying to take advantage of our strengths and weaknesses. We’re not there yet.’’

The Seminoles have a power player evolving in Bernard James (12 points, eight rebounds Saturday), a shooter in Deividas Dulkys (32 points against the Tar Heels), a heady point in Loucks and a confidence now that is soaring.

“In order for us to be a program of significance in our league and nationally, we have to be somewhere close to the two premier programs in the country and if you’re going to do that, today was a tremendous step in that direction,’’ Hamilton said.

He added that the Seminoles didn’t feel the pain of the early losses until recently.

“We had them watch those games to see what it felt like,’’ Hamilton said. “There is a different focus now. I don’t feel we’ve slid back. We dug a hole for ourselves and we’re still trying to get out of it.’’

But the scheduling is now in FSU's favor. Florida State doesn’t play Carolina again. Duke has to go to Tallahassee on Feb. 23. The only other contender may be Virginia, which does play the Seminoles twice (Feb. 4, March 1).

Florida State next faces Wake Forest on the road Wednesday.

“If we lose the next game," Snaer said, "the Duke game goes away.’’