Rivers said Dawkins just has to keep shooting, whether the ball is going through the rim or not.
“That’s his game,” Rivers said. “He’s a 3-point shooter. When you’ve got a guy who’s a 3-point shooter, you have to keep him going. I don’t care if he misses four 3-pointers in a row; I want him to make his fifth. I don’t care if he misses five in a row; I want him to make his sixth. People don’t understand that even if he’s not making shots, he still has to take them. He’s a threat and he opens up shots for the rest of us.”
And when Dawkins is making his shots, like he did against Florida State on Thursday night, the Blue Devils are darn near unstoppable on offense.
Dawkins, a junior from Chesapeake, Va., scored 22 points and made six 3-pointers, leading the Blue Devils to a 74-66 victory over the No. 16 Seminoles in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,100 at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Dawkins, who plays off the bench, scored 18 points in the first half, including nine in a row on three consecutive possessions.
“I got the first one to fall and that always feels good,” Dawkins said. “Then I was able to shoot some free throws. I was just feeling it.”
The victory helped Duke remain in a tie with No. 7 North Carolina in the ACC standings with three games to go in the regular season. The Blue Devils play Virginia Tech at home on Saturday and at Wake Forest on Tuesday night, before closing the regular season on March 3 against the Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.
Duke avenged a 76-73 loss to FSU at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 21 and improved to 7-0 in ACC road games this season.
“We’ve just got to try to finish strong,” Rivers said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do. We have three difficult games left. We have to stay focused.”
If the Blue Devils continue to shoot the ball like they did against the Seminoles, they’re going to be awfully difficult to beat. Duke made 13 of 28 3-pointers against an FSU defense that came into the game ranked No. 14 nationally in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to make only 29.1 percent of their attempts.
“Whenever they got a good look from the perimeter, they made us pay,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “That’s what great teams do. That’s a team that plays to its strengths. Their strength is getting to the basket and making 3s. That’s a tough combination.”
It’s an even tougher assignment with Rivers on the floor. Rivers, a freshman from Orlando, Fla., is exceptionally adept at driving to the basket. If a defender cuts him off, Rivers just kicks it back out to a shooter on the perimeter.
“We’ve got a guy in Austin who can really put pressure on a defense by getting to the basket,” Dawkins said. “We know we’re going to get some looks and we have to make them. We’re a difficult team to defend. We’ve got a lot of guys who can score the basketball both inside and out.”
Rivers said Dawkins is equally important to Duke’s success.
“He opens the floor for me,” Rivers said. “When Dawkins isn’t making his shots, they’re just in the paint waiting for me.”
Rivers scored 20 points against FSU with four assists and four rebounds. He shot 6-for-16 from the floor, including 4-for-8 on 3-pointers. Rivers played the game in front of his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is in the state for this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game in Orlando.
“They’re one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country,” Hamilton said. “They have two kids who are skilled at getting into the lane. When you allow them to do what they do best, which is knocking down 3s, it’s very difficult to get over the hump.”
When the Seminoles made their last run in the final five minutes of the game, Dawkins wasn’t even the Blue Devil who buried them. After FSU made it 58-55 on Xavier Gibson’s layup with 4:55 to go, Kelly made a contested 3-pointer from the right wing. After FSU forward Bernard James scored three points on a hook shot and free throw to make it 61-58, Curry made his only 3-pointer of the game.
“It’s hard to guard us,” Rivers said. “We have great bigs, too. Right now, our perimeter players are shooting great and we have to keep doing it. A lot of guys are stepping up and making shots.”