As talented as Duke’s freshmen are, they entered Saturday’s game without having ever experienced an ACC win.
The Blue Devils fell in an early December ACC opener at Boston College, then had a three-week wait in the league’s basement before getting the chance to even their record in the home ACC opener against Florida State.
Lesson No. 1: Wins aren’t easy to come by in the ACC.
“That was a war out there today,” said freshman power forward Marvin Bagley III after Duke took a 100-93 win over the Seminoles at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Bagley had his best game as a Blue Devil. He scored 32 points on 13-of-17 shooting and pulled down 21 rebounds, the second most by a Duke player during Mike Krzyzewski’s time as head coach. His 11 offensive rebounds were the most ever in the Coach K era.
“It’s just amazing,” freshman point guard Trevon Duval said of Bagley’s game. “It’s crazy. You don’t really play with players like that every day, so to play with someone like that. It’s just fun to watch and fun to play with.”
Duke needed every bit of Bagley’s production to hold off No. 24 Florida State. The Seminoles countered Duke’s zone defense with outside shooting and hit 15-of-32 on 3-pointers, both of which were records by a Duke opponent at Cameron Indoor. Seminoles big man Phil Cofer led the way with 28 points and a half dozen threes, the third most by a visiting player at Cameron.
The Noles led at halftime and by as many as eight in the second half. The game was extremely physical and emotional, with Bagley picking up a flagrant foul and Florida State’s bench being issued a technical foul. With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Florida State led, and four of the five Duke players on the floor were playing with four fouls.
“You’ve got to learn how to do it,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re not going to win a big game without your big players. They just have to learn.”
The freshmen passed their first test. Wendell Carter Jr., one of the freshmen playing with four fouls, took a charge in the closing moments to get the ball back for Duke and clinch the victory. Duval picked up his fourth foul with 12 minutes to play and added several big shots and passes down the stretch as Duke rallied.
“Over the years, we have not been a team that takes a kid out with two (first half fouls) and sit him,” Krzyzewski said. “He played for quite a bit of time with two, but he played like he had two. I told him, ‘You can’t do that, or I can’t have you in the game.’”
After Duval picked up his fourth foul, Krzyzewski took him aside. “You can’t play these last few minutes like you did in the first half,” he told the point guard. “Play like you have none. Be a man. Be mature.”
Duval responded. In the final 6:30, his assists to Bagley and Carter each gave Duke a one-point lead, and a rare 3-pointer cut a four-point FSU lead to one. Duval then hit a layup and jumper that gave Duke back the lead, and had a game-tying layup and assist.
“When I got in there, I just knew it was time to go,” he said. “It was a close game, and I needed to do whatever I needed to do to help my team win. I love those types of games. I came to Duke to play in those type of games, and the ACC is a tough league. Every game is pretty much going to be like that. My mindset was really just, ‘We have to win. We can’t lose this game.’ We were already 0-1 in the league, so we couldn’t go 0-2.”
“We grew up a lot today,” Duval continued. “With big games like this, I think we always grow and take a step forward, but today, with four out of our five starters playing with four fouls and playing smart and playing hard like that, I feel as if we all grew up.”