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Duke starts fast, holds off NC State for 98-85 win

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Mason Plumlee and Duke got the better of C.J. Leslie and N.C. State in the rematch of the Triangle's two best teams. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

DURHAM—The first time Duke faced N.C. State, the Blue Devils were beginning their search for a new offensive identity.

It was clear Thursday night that they have found it, especially least early in the game, as the first-half cushion they built didn’t ran out in a 98-85 win. But the Wolfpack came close late in the game, making Duke work until the final minute.

“I don’t know how you couldn’t be proud of both teams tonight,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That was great ACC basketball.”

Each team traded outstanding shooting halves, as Duke shot 61.3 percent from the field in the first half and led 58-37. N.C. State responded with a 65.5 percent performance to make the game interesting late.

Trailing 58-36 and missing point guard Lorenzo Brown due to a left ankle injury, N.C. State came out strong in the second half. The Wolfpack hit 12 of its first 14 shots and closing the deficit to 12, 78-66, with 9:21 remaining on the clock.

But Richard Howell, who dominated the first matchup, was whistled for his fourth foul on the next possession.

“When a team is in foul trouble, it’s just kind of like you smell blood, and you just keep going at them,” Mason Plumlee said. “When guys are playing not to foul, it makes them susceptible to a lot of things.”

Plumlee finished with a game-high 30 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and—in an especially positive development—12-of-16 shooting from the free throw line. Duke ran several isolation plays designed to get Plumlee the ball in the second, and he was able to post up both Howell and Leslie.

Duke's frontcourt was especially thin, with Ryan Kelly unavailable due to an ankle injury and Josh Hairston out with an infection in his right arm that needed surgery earlier in the week. But Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy filled in admirably, playing a combined 37 minutes and--most importantly--staying out of foul trouble.

It was an offensive foul that ended Howell’s night with 3:41 left on the clock and the Duke leading 88-75. Off the ball, he elbowed Plumlee in the head, sending him to the bench with 23 points and nine rebounds.

C.J. Leslie cut the lead to single digits after Quinn Cook traveled in the backcourt, hitting one of two free throws to cut the score to 89-80 Duke with 1:52 left on the clock.

Tyler Thornton also traveled in the backcourt with Duke holding a 91-82 lead, but Duke got a huge defensive stop thanks to a Plumlee block.

Scott Wood hit a 3, his fourth of the game, to cut it to 93-85 with just over a minute left. It was the first time in the Gottfried era that the Wolfpack lost a game in which Wood hit four 3s (13-1).

Rasheed Sulaimon was called for an offensive foul on the ensuing inbounds pass—the third backcourt turnover for the Blue Devils down the stretch—but a Jordan Vandenberg hook shot wouldn’t go, and Wood missed a long 3. Curry pulled down the rebound and made both free throws 95-85 with 52 seconds remaining. Plumlee added a dunk over Vandenberg with 23.2 seconds left on the clock.

“We just couldn’t seem to get one or two more stops and scorers at the same time right when we needed to,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “Our guys battled hard. They never quit.”

No. 4 Duke (20-2, 7-2 in the ACC) opened the game with a 28-9 run--an "unbelievable start," Krzyzewski said-- and scored 58 first-half points, a season-high. It was also the third time this ACC season that N.C. State (16-7, 5-5) had given up at least 50 point in a half.

Less than a month ago in Raleigh, Duke had just lost Ryan Kelly, and his absence forced the Blue Devils to find a new offensive identity. The coaches installed offensive sets that put more emphasis on finding Plumlee and Seth Curry, which the Blue Devils did at will all night.

Curry finished with 26 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field and 10-of-12 from the line. Wolfpack freshman Rodney Purvis struggled to guard Curry as he looked for screens all over the court. When he did receive the ball, he instantly fired, not giving Purvis any time to recover.

"We would love to have Ryan back, but we’ve at least learned to play with this group," Krzyzewski said. "I’m not saying we’re a great team, but we’re a good team now with this group."

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one more thing

I thought K's head was going to explode when he didn't get the time out call before the 10 second violation late in the game. It was a rare amusing moment in an otherwise difficult viewing experience for Pack fans.

No leadership

Pack Fans. State has no leadership from its upperclassmen. If State prepared for that game last night defensively, it sure didn't show. They have a lot of talent, and they are playing with freshmen, but gees! they are more than 20 games in and look the same as early in the year. Lewis has been a more than adequate replacement for Brown but we just don't play for 40 min, ever. As far as the Can't Blame Gottfried, well, he's proven he can recruit, but the coaching jury in still out. We have absolutely no team chemistry at all more than 20 games into the season. Just wish Howell's desire and heart would resonate with the rest of the team as they desperately need to learn that in the ACC, you can't outscore everybody, every night. You have to play DEFENSE!

Observations

1. We are now seeing why Tyler Lewis' coach at Oak Hill called him one of the two best point guards he has ever coached. The other was Rajon Rondo.

2. It was a shame that Richard Howell fouled out the way that he did. I have no problem with the rule, because protecting players from concussions has to be an overriding concern. But I just hated to see Richard leave a game in which he took it upon himself to bring the Pack back and make the game interesting. Richard is a case study in what leadership looks like. I don't know if he will get an opportunity in the NBA, but he will be successful regardless of where his future takes him.

3. The opposite can be said of CJ Leslie. He is an enigma to me. I get that he is being targeted for double teams, but when you look at performance vs. potential, the Pack gets less from him than anyone else on the team. He has reverted back to being a one-on-one player on offense and is AWOL on defense. If you want to get an idea of what his NBA career is going to be like, google "JJ Hickson". It is not pretty.

4. Rodney Purvis and TJ Warren are getting a lesson on how tough it is to sustain positive results over a full season in college. I believe that both are excellent players who will get better as time goes on. Rodney has a tendency to lose his composure and make poor decisions. Once he learns to remain calm under pressure and stay within the offense, he will be a more consistent performer and a first-team all ACC candidate. TJ has the size and talent to become the best player in the ACC before he leaves. However, he must get his head straight, focus on fundamentals and decide that defense matters too.

5. I thought that Scott was mediocre before he got hurt and much improved when he came back in. In the first minute, he had a chance for an open three that he passed on. I thought that was a mistake and it set the tone for a ho-hum first half. However, that was a gutsy performance in the second half that was key to the comeback. I hope the injury is minor and that he is close to 100% by Sunday. The Pack can't afford any more injury problems.

6. The free-throw issue makes me sick. I can't even talk about it, except to say there is no excuse for it.

Where's the heart?

Where's the heart for NC State? I think it's that simple. They had no desire to be on the court last night and Duke did what good teams do: destroy.

Pathetic performance. Tyler Lewis and Howell are the only guys on the team who play hard throughout the game. How people can't get "up" for big games is beyond me. Maybe they need to take a Cialis or something to help with their obvious performance anxiety.

I remember writing a post all but guaranteeing NC State would be where they are at this point in the year. Hate to see that I was right.

Yes, Yar8pack, it seems

that State has fallen into its usual position in the middle to lower tier of the ACC Conference; a position of mediocrity that has become all too familiar with those of us who have followed the fortunes of the Pack for years.

They played their usual 20 minutes of decent basketball last night doing everything it took in the other 20 minutes to lose yet another game; very disappointing game; very disappointing year.

..........Congratulations to Tyler Lewis! You have proven a lot of people wrong; you really CAN play this game!

tyler lewis

Kinda been holding these thoughts since the Miami game cause I wanted to see if there was a trend. First, I do like Lewis; he has a lot of heart and desire (much more at times than other, more renowed, players on the team). He is quick, can create his own shot (which is unadvised, at times) and can make some nifty passes. He certainly has contibuted these past two games from a scoring standpoint. But where a liability exists, is in the area of defense, particularly transition defense. Yes, he is quick, but not fast and he is also somewhat vertically challenged. Perhaps his contributions on the offensive end (points and assists) will counter the defensive aspects. Time will tell.

Defense

Defense will always be a problem for Tyler, if for no other reason than his size. It's probably not fair to evaluate him yet on defense based on 2+ games, but he certainly has proven he can run the point at this level. Miami and Duke were not pushovers.

The other question will be whether he can hold up over an entire college season. He played a lot of games in high school, but the more physical college game could take its toll on a player his size. He will have to work on strenght and stamina during the summer.

What now?

Will the Pack slide into oblivion or find a way to turn the season around? The emotional answer is, with apologies to The Who, "Meet the new Pack, same as the old Pack". I am not accepting that answer. Here is why.

On February 3, 2010, Butler lost at Youngstown State. It was mired in a 3-game losing streak and its season was on the brink of disaster. From that point on it didn't lose again until UConn beat it in the National Championship game.

I am not suggesting that the Pack is Butler. I am positing that once Lorenzo Brown is back and Tyler Lewis is incorporated into the regular rotation, State will be better than it was when Lorenzo went down. Look at the remaining regular season schedule and every game is one that the Pack not only can win, but should win.

The key is how long Lorenzo will be out and how the insertion of Tyler into the rotation will be handled. You can bet that Bobby Lutz is working on that as we speak.

Hang in there. And, for YAR8Pack, trust me. Have I ever let you down?

JPD; always the optimist;

gosh I wish I could share it; just can't believe this season will end on a positive note as you suggest; just haven't seen enough so far to justify the optimism---hope I am proven wrong.

Optimism

As a lifelong Cleveland Indians and Browns fan, my immune system has developed a tolerance for frustrating play by my favorite sports teams. Hence my choice to see the glass half-full with the Pack. In State's case, I think optimism is warranted. Although State's pre-season ranking clearly was overstated, this is a good team that will get better if it puts its mind to it.

State is at a turning point and it has a choice. It can let the season slip away or it can start fresh with a win at Clemson. With or without Lorenzo, Clemson is a must win. If the Pack doesn't, even I won't be able to put a positive spin on it.

Clemson

No way they lose to CU, all they have to do is play as well as in the last two games. They can even have one of those poor defensive performances, CU just doesn't have the fire power.

can't blame Gottfried

I don't think one can blame Gottfried for the loss at Duke. He wasn't the one who blew defensive assignments and played with no energy for most of the first half. When the State players play with energy, this is a good team. But there is no one who consistently does that except, usually, Howell (now that L Brown is injured). Leslie is a sometimes great player who often does not show up; especially defensively.

They are not mathematically unable to win the conference, though at this point, no one really thinks this team is ready to go on a run that would lead the a top finish. Fourth place might be a realistic goal. Previously this seemed like a team that only showed up for the big games, but the game tonight suggests they might not show up for those either.

The season appears to be

The season appears to be going downhill. The pre-season hype was just that-hype. I am sick of the status quo! FT's horrible. 1st half D was atrocious. Hype, Hype, Hype! 20 wins not a Definate.

Rule of Four

Is this poster just determined to get his point across, or do we have a new take on JPG's Rule of Four, a rule that was totally demolished last night in Cameron?

The season appears to be

The season appears to be going downhill. The pre-season hype was just that-hype. I am sick of the status quo! FT's horrible. 1st half D was atrocious. Hype, Hype, Hype! 20 wins not a Definate.

The season appears to be

The season appears to be going downhill. The pre-season hype was just that-hype. I am sick of the status quo! FT's horrible. 1st half D was atrocious. Hype, Hype, Hype! 20 wins not a Definate.

The season appears to be

The season appears to be going downhill. The pre-season hype was just that-hype. I am sick of the status quo! FT's horrible. 1st half D was atrocious. Hype, Hype, Hype! 20 wins not a Definate.

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About the blogger

Laura Keeley is the Duke beat writer for the News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter @laurakeeley
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