Two emotional wins in three days have led into one gigantic game for the Seminoles (19-7, 10-2), who clinched an upper-division finish in the ACC with a 76-62 win at NC State on Saturday.
The game followed the Seminoles' Houdini act earlier in the week with a 48-47 win against Virginia Tech on Michael Snaer's 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining.
And now, for the main event.
The Seminoles host Duke on Thursday in arguably the biggest ACC game of their history in this league. All the tickets are sold. National television awaits. Having already beaten Duke earlier this season, an FSU win would enable the Seminoles to win all tiebreakers, should it come down to that, between the Seminoles, Duke and North Carolina for first place in the final league standings.
But they will also be facing a streaking Duke team that is familiar with these kind of big-stage games, and FSU is not sneaking up on anyone in this league anymore. At issue for the Seminoles is not only how they handle this kind of game, but how they play a few days later when going to Miami. This could either prove to be a great week or a disappointing one.
Regardless, the 'Noles are in the NCAA Tournament. They are virtually guaranteed to finish no worse than third in the ACC. They proved their mettle in rallying to beat Virginia Tech, then blowing out North Carolina State in a game that enabled them to win four times against Tobacco Road teams for the first time.
"We're not from Tobacco Road, where everyone pays attention to basketball," FSU junior Michael Snaer said. "There's an added emotion. You're up here, and you want to win every single game. All of the North Carolina teams are very strong, so talented, and we want to take the challenge."
This is all heady stuff for a program once mired in mediocrity, once struggling to attain winning seasons and only dream of trying make the NCAA Tournament field on a regular basis.
NOTES AND QUOTES
How high is the fan fervor for FSU's game Thursday against Duke? FSU students gobbled their 3,600-ticket allotment in just 15 minutes after the tickets became available Sunday. The remaining 8,000 seats at FSU's Tucker Center were sold out last week, making this perhaps the most-anticipated home game since the school joined the league. And to think, not long ago, FSU was offering promotional deals to try to lure both students and fans into the arena. ...
The Seminoles held NC State to a season-low 29.3 field goal percentage in the Saturday win. Shawn Wood, the Wolfpack's leading scorer, was just 1 of 10 from the floor. Aside from the Wolfpack's C.J. Leslie's 8-of-14 performance, the rest of the team was 9 of 44. ...
F Antwan Space, a freshman that had played just seven minutes total in the last month, played a career-high eight minutes against NC State, scoring two points, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot. He was among 11 FSU players that saw action. None of the 11, including the starters, played more than 29 minutes, as coach Leonard Hamilton relied on his depth in a physical game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4/10 -- If the Seminoles believe in numerology, these are two numbers to remember. They have attained a grand slam of victories against Tobacco Road teams (Duke, North Carolina, NC State and Wake Forest) for the first time since joining the ACC 20 years ago. This is also the first time in the ACC existence they have won at least 10 league games in four consecutive seasons. It's also the first time in school history, not just the ACC, that FSU will play in the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive years.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we took a step. I thought we took another step because this was a game that was extremely important for them, so we knew we were going to get their best shot. We knew we were going to get it, so we had to rise to the occasion." -- Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton after his team's crucial road win Saturday against NC State.