RALEIGH—In its last three trips to PNC Arena as a top-two team, the final scene was the same for the Blue Devils: Duke headed to the locker room as a sea of red rushed onto the floor.
Saturday night, it was déjà vu all over again for the nation's No. 2 team.
Despite a 49-point effort from the freshman duo of Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval, the Blue Devils suffered their second defeat in just three ACC games, this time falling to N.C. State 96-85. The Wolfpack featured a balanced offensive attack with six double-figure scorers, dominating Duke down low to the tune of 14 offensive boards, 44 points in the paints and 20 second-chance points.
“They outplayed us,” Blue Devil head coach Mike Kryzewski said. “Some of this stuff isn’t hard. We got beat.... We played crappy defense, we were frantic, they played their butts off. We’ve got to get better. To me, it’s that simple.”
Up against the nation's most efficient offense, the Wolfpack were not fazed and unafraid to keep pace. N.C. State repeatedly attacked Duke's defense, and with just 6:48 remaining, freshman Braxton Beverly scooped a reverse layup to push the hosts' lead to nine—their largest of the night to that point—at 75-66, igniting the Wolfpack crowd.
“Their offense was better than our defense tonight,” Grayson Allen said. “They scored the ball really well. Their guards got to whatever spot they wanted to and their bigs were solid, too. It’s a game where we couldn’t stop them, and credit to them—they executed well and guys made big shots for them.”
A 10-4 spurt, capped by an Allen steal leading to a Gary Trent Jr. breakaway lay-in, however, brought the contest to a three-point game with less than four minutes to play.
But Beverly then rose with a triple from the top of the key to double the N.C. State lead, and a corner 3-pointer from Torin Dorn just 42 seconds later pushed the Wolfpack lead to seven, giving the home side a sizable cushion in the waning minutes.
Two free throws from Beverly then made it a nine-point game as the Blue Devils were unable to climb back into the contest, and a 4-point play by Dorn put the nail in the coffin as the roof nearly blew off the top of PNC Arena.
“We’ve got to talk and you’ve got to do the little things to get the wins, especially in an environment like this,” Bagley said. “It’s going to be the whole arena against us, and we’ve got to come together and do the small things on defense—and throughout the whole game—to maintain our leads and make sure we come out with wins.”
Even as Duke (13-2, 1-2 in the ACC) slowly found a groove going down low after trailing at half for the sixth time this season and falling behind by as many as eight—Bagley tallied eight straight points in less than three minutes and finished with 31 points and 10 boards—the hosts continued their offensive onslaught, shooting better than 60 percent from the field in the first nine and a half minutes of the second half.
But the Blue Devils stuck to their bread and butter, going inside time and time again, ultimately putting N.C. State (11-5, 1-2) into foul trouble. With more than eight minutes to play, Yurtseven picked up his fourth foul of the night and fellow forward Abdul-Malik Abu had already been tagged for three.
In the early minutes, it looked as if the Blue Devils were ready to seize control. After the Wolfpack led 6-2, Duke's offense came to life, going on a 25-10 run to gain some headway thanks to Duval and Bagley, who each finished the first half with 11 points.
But after dropping their first two ACC contests, N.C. State would not fade easily. The Wolfpack surged ahead with a 15-0 outburst, including a Sam Hunt corner triple that forced a timeout from Mike Krzyzewski and three quick points out of the timeout.
“We’ve had leads throughout this season and they always find a way to come back,” Bagley said. “We’ve just got to focus and go back and watch film again, just try to figure it out.”
From there, the Blue Devils were able to regain the lead, but it was not one they would hold for long. Duke led 41-37 with just more than two minutes remaining in the opening stanza before the hosts closed with six straight points, including the last four from Yurtseven, to lead 43-41 at intermission.
With a slim two-point advantage coming out of halftime, the Wolfpack then continued to assert themselves inside despite a size disadvantage against the Blue Devils' talented frontcourt. Sophomore big man Omer Yurtseven scored six of N.C. State's first 12 points after the break.
“We know how to play defense. We go over it in practice every day. We do it in practice all the time,” Duval said. “It’s just translating into the game and talking. If we talk, then that puts us all in a position to make stops and make the right plays on defense.”
If Duke is going to get things right defensively, it won’t have much time. The Blue Devils have just a few days off before a third road contest in four games to start conference play—they will visit Pittsburgh Wednesday night, looking to get back to .500 in the ACC.
“We have to keep working on it, it’s pretty simple,” Krzyzewski said. “You just try to keep getting better…. It’s a matter of just growing up, getting tough, trying to play each play. It’s what it is.”
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."