RALEIGH - One trick of the trade learned by Mike Krzyzewski in his 800-win career-let your players do the talking.
With Duke down by double digits in the second half, Krzyzewski ceded control of his huddle to his players with the hopes they would regain enough composure to get back into the game. Buoyed by the clutch play of Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson, Krzyzewski's approach paid off as Duke (25-3, 12-2 in the ACC) went on a furious comeback to secure a historic 87-86 win over N.C. State (15-14, 4-11) Saturday at the RBC Center.
Nelson and Paulus hit 3-pointers within 30 seconds of each other that turned N.C. State's six-point lead into a tie with just over 1:30 left in the game. Then, Nelson capped the Duke comeback by calmly sinking a pair of free throws with 1:01 remaining, giving the Blue Devils their first lead since the 7:52 mark of the first half. When the Wolfpack's Ben McCauley missed on a desperation jumper with time expiring, Duke players and coaches mobbed their legendary coach in congratulations of his milestone 800th win.
"It was a remarkable game," Krzyzewski said. "I thought N.C. State played superbly, and outplayed us for 32 minutes. I don't think they played poorly in the last eight minutes, but our guys made remarkable plays.... Every one of our guys hit big shots and free throws."
Prior to those last eight minutes of the game, Krzyzewski's team was throttled by a gritty Wolfpack team that didn't seem to miss from any spot on the court. N.C. State shot a blistering 60 percent from the floor and 67 percent from behind the arc in the first half, and the Wolfpack sank 18 straight free throws before Marques Johnson notched the team's first miss at the 8:44 mark of the second half.
Apart from an uncharacteristically strong 81-percent performance at the free-throw line, the Blue Devils struggled to find the bottom of the net for the first three-quarters of the game, with Jon Scheyer the only Duke player creating offense on his own through dribble penetration and solid perimeter shooting.
With just around 10 minutes remaining, Krzyzewski switched to his "hands-off" approach-a move that seemed to spark the Blue Devils to a roaring comeback.
"There came a point and time where he kind of let us talk," Scheyer said. "It was pretty intense with us just talking to each other about getting stops and making plays. I think that was a big turning point for us."
After slightly chipping away at the Wolfpack lead, the Blue Devils made their big move with just less than two and a half minutes left. While drawing in the opposing defense with a drive to the basket, Scheyer found a wide-open Nelson at the edge of the 3-point line. Realizing that he was still inside the line, Nelson stepped back and nailed a 3-pointer that narrowed the N.C. State lead to only one possession at 84-82.
After N.C. State guard Javier Gonzalez hit a free throw to put his team up by three points, Paulus nailed a 24-foot dagger from behind the arc off of a cross-court pass from a driving Gerald Henderson. The shot by Paulus silenced a boisterous opposing crowd with an upset on its mind and set the stage for Nelson's eventual game-winning free throws seconds later.
"That three that he hit was big-might have been the biggest shot of the game," Nelson said. "Greg's been hitting shots like that all year for us, and we hope he continues to hit those shots."
Krzyzewski was the first to admit postgame that the Wolfpack had outplayed his team, but his players' execution down the stretch sealed a win-and made history.
"We're fortunate to win, but if our kids had not played that well, the team that played better for most of the game would have won," Krzyzewski said. "Sometimes the basketball gods smile on you, and they smiled on us today."
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