GREENSBORO, N.C.—As Duke entered halftime down 13 with just five made buckets, its hopes of another deep ACC tournament run looked bleak.

And when star guard Lexie Brown hit the deck midway through the third quarter, things only became more grim.

Although the fourth-seeded Blue Devils’ most dangerous weapon returned, it was not enough to overcome an early deficit, as No. 5 seed N.C. State edged out Duke 51-45 at the Greensboro Coliseum Friday. The Wolfpack got an ACC tournament record 22 rebounds from forward Chelsea Nelson, as she and N.C. State controlled the glass throughout by a 47-37 margin.

Both the Blue Devils and their in-state rival shot worse than 30 percent from the field in what was a low-scoring struggle.

“At this time of year, it really comes down to these nitty-gritty things,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that gave one player 22 rebounds—that’s got to be a world record.... She won the game for her team, flat out.”

Trailing by four with less than three minutes remaining, Brown drove to the rim and drew a foul. She then coolly drained both at the line to cut N.C. State’s lead to just a pair and give the Blue Devils one final shot to complete the comeback.

But a layup from Wolfpack forward Kiara Leslie brought the lead back to four with 70 seconds remaining, sealing a second win in two days for N.C. State.

“I think it’s a lesson,” McCallie added. “Rebounding isn’t the sexiest thing, but rebounding won that game hands down. It’s unfortunate for us.”

Out of the break, the Blue Devils (22-8) found an immediate answer to the Wolfpack’s late-half spurt, answering with a 10-0 run of their own capped by back-to-back triples from Rebecca Greenwell to close within three.

Yet when Brown collided with N.C. State’s Akela Maize midway through the third quarter, the Blue Devil graduate student was helped immediately to the locker room, putting no weight on her right leg.

“It just hurt a lot,” Brown said. “It was my hip, but I just wanted to get up, get back into the game. Honestly, all I could think about was getting back up.”

Duke refused to fade, though, finishing with seven of the quarter’s final nine points to close the lead to just one, and Brown’s speedy return to the floor only further rejuvenated the Blue Devils. The Suwanee, Ga., native finished the day with 16 points to pace Duke, but shot just 4-of-15 from the field and missed two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that could have taken the lead or made it interesting down the stretch.

It wasn’t a pretty start for either team, as defense led the way in the early going. And as usual, it was Brown keeping the Blue Devils afloat, scoring eight of Duke’s 14 first-quarter points.

But what little offensive rhythm Brown and her teammates found in the opening stanza quickly evaporated. After Erin Mathias drilled two free throws just before the five-minute mark of the second quarter to make it 21-18, the Blue Devils went silent the rest of the half. 

“We just had too many mental lapses to begin the game,” Greenwell said. “That’s something we talk about, playing a full 40 minutes. We didn’t start playing Duke basketball until the second half, and even after that we got out of ourselves.”

Duke missed 11 straight field goal attempts and the Wolfpack (24-7) surged into the locker room with 10 consecutive points, giving themselves a 31-18 advantage at the break.

Now, the Blue Devils have little choice but to sit around and await their NCAA tournament fate when the brackets are announced in 10 days. 

Almost certainly, Duke will be seeded lower than fourth, meaning that the Blue Devils will have to find wins away from Durham—something they’ve struggled to do all season long, going just 6-7 outside the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“It’s up to all of us,” McCallie said. “We’ve been very poor on the road, that’s a step we need to take. This game was an opportunity to take a step in that direction. You have to be gritty. We weren’t gritty today and we weren’t gritty enough. Red was on the floor more than blue. If that’s the way it’s going to be, we can’t win on the road. We have to get after it in a way that’s very selfless.”