DURHAM – So this is how it’s going to be.
Ugly, loud and in your face.
It might come down to Tre Jones. It might come down to a Hail Mary or a flying elbow.
The only thing we know for sure is it’s going to come down in Greensboro. And it just might come down to Florida State and Duke.
They played a big-time college basketball game tonight. Duke's gripping 70-65 win pushed both teams out of their comfort zones and pushed the ACC race into another level of emotions.
It was chaotic. It was profane. But it was exactly what the ACC is going to be from here on out.
Duke won because it was at home, not just in its own gym but in its own element.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows what’s about to happen, and he asked his team to push itself now, not wait until March.
Duke won its second game in 48 hours after playing three straight road games, all wins, for the first time since before Krzyzewski came to Durham.
“We beat a heck of a team tonight,” he said. “We beat a heck of a team in an epic game 48 hours ago.”
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton sensed it, too. He knows Duke is coming together now, and he knows his team has a long way to go. As the Blue Devils found their footing, as the rebounds went to Duke and the calls went against the 'Noles, some in strange moments, the game ultimately was ripped from Florida State’s hands, and you could feel the heat rise on the FSU bench.
This isn’t over. This isn’t close to being over.
There’s a month of Mondays still to play in the ACC, a league no longer trying to define itself but to define just which teams will survive the coming month and the tournaments to follow. And while the rest of the nation struggles to get a handle on just how this season will end, we know how this ends.
Loiusville is still atop the league, and it has the easier schedule from here on out. But to make sense of where the ACC is right now, we had to see Florida State and Duke. Now we’ve seen it. Now we can play the final month.
They came in ranked among the top teams in the country, FSU at No. 8 and Duke at No. 7. They didn’t just play. They collided.
At one point in the game, with the Seminoles forging ahead and knocking the Blue Devils back, Krzyzewski called a timeout. With just more than eight minutes to play, he couldn’t wait.
“We were about to get knocked out,” he said.
Duke looked done.
But the Blue Devils have Jones, and they have a deep bench of role players who are coming into their own. And they had Florida State in their face.
This was a game in early February that felt a lot like March, and Duke raised its game in Florida State’s face.
The schedule over the next four weeks has Duke playing all its in-state rivals with a trip to Virginia a week after that. Florida State, which is 20-4 and still trying to find its footing, has Louisville in the final month.
And then we all get Greensboro.
For all the hand-wringing about a down league and a lack of stars or power teams, Duke and Florida State reminded us that the ACC is still the ACC, even if this game resembled an old Big East slugfest.
There’s a lot of basketball yet to be played and only a month to squeeze it all in before the tournament.
Before we could get there, before we could even begin to look ahead, we needed to see Duke and Florida State.
And now that we’ve seen it, we need to see it again.