No member of the current N.C. State team has ever won a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Having already beaten the No. 4 Blue Devils (19-2, 6-2 in the ACC) this season, N.C. State has an opportunity to record its first victory at Duke since 1995.
“We’re not really looking at it as revenge,” Blue Devil sophomore Quinn Cook said. “We’re just trying to get another conference win…. N.C. State is coming off a tough loss, they’ll be ready, and we’ll be ready too.”
In their previous meeting, the Wolfpack (16-6, 5-4) handed then-No. 1 Duke its first loss of the season in its first contest without senior Ryan Kelly. Since that game, however, the two teams have experienced different fortunes. The Blue Devils have slowly improved, winning road games at Wake Forest and Florida State to bounce back from a 27-point drubbing at the hands of Miami. N.C. State, on the other hand, has dropped four of its last six games since the victory against Duke, but only by a total of seven points with all four games decided in the last 10 seconds.
“There are a lot of positive things happening,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said in his weekly press conference. “We just have to make sure that we turn those things into winning games, which we’ve obviously been very close [to doing].”
Duke has adjusted to playing without Kelly and has begun to embrace its new rotation with freshman Amile Jefferson assuming the starting role and Josh Hairston, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee playing more minutes off the bench.
Jefferson, Hairston and Murphy may all have to play even more now, though, because Hairston may also be absent against the Wolfpack with an infection in a cut on his arm.
Still, the Blue Devils have seen a great deal of improvement since that first game against N.C. State as they have had time to implement a new offense without Kelly.
“We’ve put in a lot of sets from that time,” Cook said. “We’re a different team from when we were then. I think we’ve got better since that point.”
N.C. State will be facing injury worries of its own, as point guard Lorenzo Brown, who Cook labeled as “one of the best in the country,” missed the team’s last game, a last-second loss to Miami. Brown recorded 13 assists in the last matchup against the Blue Devils.
Brown did, however, warm-up with the team in their last game against Miami, and both Cook and senior Seth Curry said the Blue Devils are preparing as though Brown, who is critical to the fast-paced offense that derailed Duke, will play.
“The biggest difference in this game will be that hopefully we’ll get back in transition,” Duke senior Mason Plumlee said. “We knew that going into the last game, but I don’t think we fully understood how well they get out and run. If we can get back in transition and make them work on their offense we’ll have a better chance to win.”
The game pits two of the ACC’s active leading 3-point shooters against each other—N.C. State’s Scott Wood and Curry. Wood, a senior, is the conference’s active leader with 286 career 3-point field goals and Curry is behind him with 179.
“They’ve always done a good job of denying the wings and limiting the catches for the wings,” Wood said. “You’ve just got to work hard, set really good screens, hit the open man and make the extra pass. It’s kind of like a minefield; you’re passing a lot of big dudes down there and then you’ve got someone trying to prevent you from getting the ball.” Wood said he will not be taking too much from the January matchup except learning from what worked effectively against the Blue Devils to exploit his opponents’ tendencies.
Curry, who is coming off two 21-point games, said the added time between games lately helps his recovery and gives him time to practice, leading to better confidence on the court. Curry has missed the majority of Duke’s practices this season in order to nurse a lingering leg injury.
And with the Blue Devils coming off an 11-of-18 shooting performance against Florida State, Curry said the team needs to continue passing the ball effectively. “We’re just sharing the ball,” Curry said. “Guys are just being unselfish and hitting the open man instead of forcing shots.”
N.C. State’s balanced offense also includes a strong presence in the paint. C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds against the Blue Devils in their previous meeting, with Howell pulling down 18 boards.
With a win, Duke can show how far the team has progressed since Kelly’s injury and hand the Wolfpack a three-game losing streak, denying them another chance to win and to silence the Cameron Crazies.
“[Playing at home is] a huge advantage,” Wood said. “I know they’re kind of out for some revenge since we beat them at our place, so we’ve got to bring our A-game.”