Mired in their first three-game losing streak in nearly 10 years, the Blue Devils desperately need a win Saturday to get back on track in the ACC.
But they’ll also have to overcome more than just the Wolfpack to do so.
As winter storm Jonas sweeps across the East Coast, No. 20 Duke heads across the Triangle to take on N.C. State Saturday at 2 p.m. at PNC Arena, a venue that has not been kind to the Blue Devils in recent years. Last season, Duke waltzed into Raleigh with the No. 2 ranking in the nation and a perfect 14-0 record, but the Wolfpack dominated the second half and came away with a double-digit victory. PNC Arena was also the site of Duke’s infamous NCAA tournament loss to 14th-seeded Mercer in 2014, a loss that only two healthy Blue Devils can remember first-hand.
If Duke (14-5, 3-3 in the ACC) is to capture its first win in four trips to PNC Arena—N.C. State also defeated a top-ranked Duke squad in 2013—the Blue Devils are going to have to improve their efforts on the boards against a sizable Wolfpack frontcourt. Syracuse dominated the offensive glass Monday in the Orange’s 64-62 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium—the Blue Devils yielded 26 offensive rebounds, including 12 alone to Syracuse forward Tyler Roberson—a trend that has become all too familiar in Amile Jefferson’s absence.
Duke has been outrebounded in each of its last three games—all losses—and N.C. State (11-8, 1-5) is well-suited to exploit that weakness. The Wolfpack are outrebounding their opponents by more than six rebounds per game and grab 42.6 boards per contest, the top mark in the ACC. Sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu leads the way in the frontcourt for N.C. State and has built off an impressive freshman campaign, averaging 11.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game so far this season.
Blue Devil center Marshall Plumlee—who has stepped up his game recently and is averaging 11.3 rebounds in his last four games—is likely to battle it out down low with Abu, but he’ll need help from Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter and Sean Obi to deal with the rest of the Wolfpack’s big men.
ACC Sixth Man of the Year Beejay Anya made his presence felt last season against Jahlil Okafor and company with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and has been inserted into the starting lineup recently by N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried to give the Wolfpack two legitmate bruisers down low. Anya took the starting spot of fellow junior Lennard Freeman, who still ranks second on the team with 6.9 rebounds per game and could make a big impact on the game coming off the bench with his 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame.
Although N.C. State boasts a trio of capable forwards, its leader—Anthony “Cat” Barber—resides in the backcourt. The junior point guard is one of the most explosive players in the conference, and leads the ACC in scoring at 22.3 points per game, holding more than a two-point advantage on Blue Devil Grayson Allen, who ranks second at 20.1. Barber is not a stellar 3-point shooter, but loves to attack off the bounce and has the green light in just about any situation.
As a team, the Wolfpack do not shoot the ball particularly well, and their 41.5 field goal percentage ranks last in the ACC. Duke has been up-and-down offensively during its three-game skid—the Blue Devils managed 63 points in a loss at Clemson Jan. 13, then erupted for 91 in a loss to Notre Dame Jan. 16 before Monday's 62-point effort against Syracuse, which was marred by a woeful 10-of-37 mark from downtown. But Duke still shoots at a 47.7 percent clip and ranks fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency. Better shooting from the backcourt—guards Luke Kennard and Matt Jones combined to make just 2-of-20 attempts Monday—should help the Blue Devils regain some of the offensive firepower they displayed early in the season.
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