Three Points (and 1) from N.C. State's 84-76 win over Duke:
1) You can't fake confidence
While the fans and N.C. State players stormed the court to celebrate the Wolfpack's win over Duke, coach Mark Gottfried fretted to ESPN's Jeannine Edwards about Wednesday's trip to Maryland. That's what coaches do, understood, but if there's anything N.C. State has shown in 53 games under Gottfried, it's that when it gets confidence, it keeps it.
The crazy thing about N.C. State last March was it started to play with confidence after a four-game losing streak. What will a rare win over Duke, and 10 straight wins overall, do for this group?
If last March is any indication, you'll see their season take off on a rocket. Now, that doesn't mean N.C. State is going to run the table, but I expect an updated version of the confident, dangerous team from important games in Atlanta, Columbus and St. Louis last March.
Engaged is a word I use often with State's stars C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown. When those two are locked in, N.C. State becomes difficult for any team to beat. Those two were really good on Saturday against Duke, and have been for the most part since the first half of the Michigan game.
By the way, the loss at Duke last Feb. 16 was the first game in the aforementioned losing streak and coincided with when Leslie and Brown started to assert themselves and take ownership of the team.
2) Limit the second chances
On paper, N.C. State's biggest deficiencies are on defense. State ranks 249th, out of 345 teams, in pure scoring defense and 161st in Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free measure of defensive efficiency.
But I don't think N.C. State's bad on defense, per se, rather its biggest problems are on the defensive glass.
Duke had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half on Saturday, and led by as many as eight.
N.C. State, and forward Richard Howell in particular, put an end to most of Duke's second chances in the second half.
Duke had just two offensive rebounds in the second half, while Howell had 14 rebounds in the second half.
"We rebounded the ball in the second half," Gottfried said. "That was the over-riding factor that helped us win the game."
Gottfried is right. N.C State has allowed 13 teams (in 16 games) get at least 13 offensive rebounds. Almost 20 percent of the points N.C. State allows per game (223 or 1,1122 points on the season) are second-chance points.
Duke had 22 second-chance points on Saturday and Georgia Tech had 17 last Wednesday and Boston College had 14 in the ACC opener.
Here's the thing, N.C. State won all three of those games (and all 13 when the opponent had at least 13 offensive rebounds).
Even stranger, in State's two losses, Oklahoma State and Michigan had only seven and six second-chance points, respectively.
Of course, Oklahoma State and Michigan collectively out-scored N.C. State 51 to 18 from the 3-point line, so there's not much analysis needed there.
3) Big game from Big Rich
Senior forward Richard Howell had the line of the day in the box score and a second-half Wolfpack huddle.
Howell finished the game with 16 points, 18 rebounds and two steals in 38 minutes (the latter actually might be the most important).
Howell was strong, especially in the second half with 10 of his points and 14 of his rebounds.
At one point in the second half, after Duke cut N.C. State's 10-point lead to one, Gottfried called timeout and challenged his team to rebound.
"Don't worry about it, coach," Howell said during the timeout. "I'll get them all."
Howell almost did, with 14 of State's 19 in the second half, and impressed Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in the process.
"The kid is good," Krzyzewski said. "He's one of the most unique players in the country. He's a kid that every team would want and start and would be so easy to play with.
"He doesn't need the ball long, he plays with amazing maturity and he rebounds the heck out of the ball."
Coach K wasn't finished. Asked what made Howell so good on the glass, he continued his praise of the unheralded Wolfpack senior.
"He has such a good demeanor," Krzyzewski said. "He's a terrific player."
Howell has emerged in his senior season as a team leader and steadying force. The biggest help for Howell has been staying out of foul trouble.
Howell had two fouls on Saturday and played 38 minutes, compared to 23 minutes before fouling out last year in the loss at Duke.
In the first three ACC games of the season, Howell has 2, 4 and 2 fouls. He fouled out of five ACC games last season, and had four fouls in six others.
Bonus) Nice work by the stripes
I spend a lot of time in this space and on Twitter writing about the officials, most of it is critical of their work.
I thought Les Jones, Doug Sirmons and Gary Maxwell worked a clean, consistent game on Saturday. Sirmons, who is relatively new to the ACC, was particularly impressive.
The group handled a first-half confrontation between Scott Wood and Tyler Thornton, with matching technicals, and there was a good flow to the game.
There were 34 free throws in Saturday's game, including 10 by N.C. State when Duke was trying to foul in the final minute of the game.
Just last week, in a game also worked by Jones, N.C. State and Boston College combined for 72 free throws. That was way too many.
Take out Duke's intentional fouls, and the first-half technicals, that's 14 fouls on Duke and 12 on N.C. State.
There are million variables to every game, I understand that, but please, ACC, please find a way to give us more free-flowing games like that.