by Eric Tullis
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/ DURHAM—The first time these two teams played, N.C. State (16-8, 5-6) had gone nine consecutive games without a loss. Coming into tonight’s game against No. 4 Duke (21-2,8-2), the Wolfpack had lost four of its last six games. They walked in Cameron Indoor Stadium with considerably less mojo than they had at home and without their crafty-passing point guard, Lorenzo Brown.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, were still missing one of their senior captains, Ryan Kelly; and had to go without the reserve power of Josh Hairston, due to an infected cut in his arm from Duke’s previous win at Florida State. But, by now, the Blue Devils have mastered the art of playing with a few handicaps; and who can forget that day, last month in Raleigh when N.C. State knocked them out of their No. 1 spot. But still, this game wasn’t about revenge. It was about not repeating a loss.
In the games since then, Coach K has had enough time to play around with the lineup—letting Amile Jefferson fight his way through a bunch of mismatches, and encouraging Mason Plumlee to force his way to the bucket, no matter who or how many people were guarding him. All of that worked tonight, including some quality minutes from Alex Murphy, who tore his way through the lane and through N.C. State’s defense for a nasty dunk in the first half.
For the second straight game, Quinn Cook sank four three-pointers, matching his career high. Tonight, all of those came in the first half, along with four more from Seth Curry. N.C. State’s Tyler Lewis put up a tough fight against a killer backcourt, but wasn’t quick or sneaky enough to alter any of Duke’s perimeter play.
The C.J. Leslie/ Richard Howell combination failed against a confident and near-perfect (9-for-11 shooting) Mason Plumlee, who put up 30 points for the second time in Duke’s last three games. Howell, however, did manage to muscle his way into scoring 23 points—mostly against Plumlee.
But with 3:41 left in the game, Richard Howell fouled out of the game, leaving not much recourse for the Wolfpack. A couple of minutes later, after Mason Plumlee firmly rejected a Leslie layup in front of the rim, Leslie would also foul out and N.C. State would lose their third consecutive game. Let’s hope for a tie-breaker during this year’s ACC Tournament, when, hopefully, these two teams can meet in the championship game with a full roster. That is, if ACC powerhouse, Miami, doesn't ruin everyone's plans Click here for the full Duke/ N.C. State box score.