As Deividas Dulkys pumped his fist in jubilation, he knew one thing.
"We got 'em," said the Lithuanian guard.
Get them they certainly did.
Florida State, in one of its most surprising efforts in years, throttled the third-ranked Tar Heels of North Carolina 90-57 on Saturday. Led by Dulkys' career-high 32 points, the ‘Noles handed UNC its worse loss in the Roy Williams era.
And the 33-point margin doesn't justify how dominating FSU was in this game.
From the opening tip, Florida State appeared to be faster, stronger and more detailed-oriented than UNC. Had it not been for careless turnovers leading to easy transition baskets for the opponent, the Seminoles would have held a much larger halftime lead than the 36-28 intermission score.
Nonetheless, the ‘Noles came out with a vengeance in the second half and started a 30-8 run that pushed the advantage to 66-36. Thanks to Dulkys' sharp shooting, the Seminoles immediately damaged any hope that Tar Heel Nation may have had.
"There's no question that he's capable of doing this," said coach Leonard Hamilton of Dulkys. "He shoots this well every day in practice and gave us a performance that we really needed."
The performance was easily the best shooting night of the 6-5 guard's career. He set a new career high in points scored, and his eight 3-pointers are a Florida State record in ACC play.
Simply put, when the ball touched his hands, everyone at the Tucker Center knew it was going in.
"Every little kid has a dream when you're playing on a big stage like I did today," said the senior. "I guess today was my day."
This day was Florida State's signature moment of the season.
Desperately searching for an impressive win to enhance a victory collection that had previously been subpar at best, the Seminoles were clicking on all cylinders and received contributions from every player that took the floor. It was easily the best game of the season and perhaps the best win of Hamilton's tenure.
A showcase like this one may come as a surprise to many because of how mediocre the ‘Noles had been for most of the year. FSU had already suffered losses to two Ivy League opponents and were dominated in a 20-point loss at Clemson just a week ago.
For garnet and gold supporters, that week must seem like an eternity ago.
A moment like Saturday afternoon's can be transcending for a college basketball team. The Seminoles never lost confidence in their abilities, but it's difficult to imagine them picturing an instant such as this one. Not only did FSU shoot the lights out, but it also held North Carolina to 57 points on 37-percent shooting.
The Seminoles' defensive intensity has returned to form, and when Florida State plays defense like it has the last two outings, then it's finally becoming understood just how good this team can be.
"We haven't even played our best ball yet," said junior Michael Snaer. "I know that we can kill any team like that, simply because our defense is that good. It's just a matter of how many points are we going to score tonight."
The 90 points scored in this effort eclipsed the previous season high of 85, set against Auburn earlier this month. FSU also posted a new season high in 3-point field goals made with 12.
Dulkys was a major factor in the scoring, but you don't defeat a Williams-coached team without lots of support from others.
Defensively, Florida State was fundamentally sound and made few mistakes. Faced with the tall task of limiting potential future NBA stars such as Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, the ‘Noles rose to the challenge and weren't scared of the moment. FSU controlled play throughout, and any possible North Carolina comeback was quickly thwarted with another Dulkys trey.
It was a feat of epic proportions. That is not an overstatement.
Expectations may now rise for this team that was projected by many to finish near the top of the ACC, but a moment like this one may not be duplicated anywhere in the near future.
With that being said, Florida State has now established real evidence that it belongs on the court with some of the best teams in the country. In fact, on this day, it was the Tar Heels that didn't belong on the same floor as FSU.
Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
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