RALEIGH—It's no secret that Duke's defense has been bad all year. 

The Blue Devils have given up at least 80 points in eight of their 15 games and an average of 92.7 points in their three ACC contests.

But none of their earlier struggles came close to the level of incompetence on display at PNC Arena Saturday night.

N.C. State did not bombard Duke with a flurry of 3-pointers like Boston College and Florida State when they each knocked down 15 triples in staggering shooting performances. The Wolfpack's points came much easier—they attacked the Blue Devils where Duke should be at its strongest and met with little resistance.

Although Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were more highly recruited, more talented and more athletic than anybody on the Wolfpack's roster, N.C. State's veteran frontcourt of Omer Yurtseven, Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu went toe to toe with the Blue Devil phenoms. The Wolfpack had eight dunks to pad their shooting percentage and enjoyed several other easy looks around the basket, scoring 44 points in the paint.

"We’ve got to figure out how to get stops. I can’t tell you an exact thing. We’ve just got to do it and it’s got to be all five guys. Nobody’s pointing fingers anywhere like somebody’s a bad defender on our team," senior captain Grayson Allen said. "We’ve just got to get stops—we’re all athletic guys, so we should be able to do it." 

There was no consistent culprit that caused N.C. State's easy buckets. Sometimes Duke was late getting back in transition. Other times, it was slow to recover on basic pick-and-rolls, and the Blue Devil frontcourt was often forced to help on guards Lavar Batts and Allerik Freeman after they penetrated past one of Duke's perimeter defenders, leaving their men wide open under the hoop.

"If we had the answers, it would be easy for us right now," Bagley said. "It’s obviously not the case."

The Blue Devils have been able to mask some of those recurring deficiencies by eliminating second chances and dominating the glass on both ends to help outscore opponents in shootouts for most of the season. That wasn't the case Saturday—the Wolfpack won the rebounding battle 34-32 and grabbed 14 offensive boards that resulted in 20 second-chance points.

On one occasion, at a critical juncture with the score tied at 41 in the final seconds of the first half, Bagley stood and watched on the block as Yurtseven hustled through the paint and rose unchallenged for a putback dunk. 

Duke was never tied or in the lead again.

"They’ve gone through a lot, those big guys. If they see us getting a little bit tired or not approaching it for a certain amount of time, they’re going to take advantage of that," Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We’re their opportunity, and [the freshmen] have never experienced anything like that, where a team that you see on tape isn’t the team that shows up against you. We have to be able to handle that."

Duke has improved its defense in past years. The easy example to point to is 2015, when an unranked Miami team walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium and poured in 90 points in a blowout win, less than three months before the Blue Devils won the national championship. 

But that Duke team still had not unleashed its hidden weapon, a zone defense it used to shut down Louisville on the road a week later, and it never sunk nearly as low as the Blue Devils are right now. After that Miami loss, Duke dropped to No. 67 in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. The Blue Devils are now No. 104 in that category and have shown almost equal levels of ineffectiveness in both zone and man-to-man.

The Blue Devils also suffered an ugly loss to N.C. State last year highlighted by poor defense and immediately followed that up with an impressive seven-game winning streak, but as underachieving as that Wolfpack team was, it still had Dennis Smith Jr., a bona fide star at point guard who was a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft in June. Duke was not the only opponent that had trouble containing him. 

This year's N.C. State squad, however, is unlikely to send anybody to the NBA next year and has nobody that can sniff the talent of the Blue Devils' several McDonald's All-Americans. 

Saturday's loss is a new rock bottom for a program that once prided itself on its defense, the culmination of years of becoming younger and less cohesive on that end of the floor and a shock to the system that has the Blue Devils grasping for answers.

"The word of the day is communication.... Whenever we talk, we click," point guard Trevon Duval said. "We know how to do that. We’ve got it in us, we just have to do it on the court."

Duke will find out if the solution is that simple in another road game against an inferior opponent Wednesday at Pittsburgh.