RALEIGH—The Blue Devils were well aware of what was at stake coming into their first conference game against the No. 9 Wolfpack. Unfortunately, it slipped just out of their grasp.
Duke was able to grab a fourth quarter lead, but ultimately fell to N.C. State 63-51 Thursday night at Reynolds Coliseum. The Blue Devils clawed back from multiple sizable deficits throughout the game, but couldn’t stifle the Wolfpack’s dominant inside attack.
Junior Aislinn Konig led the way for N.C. State with 14 points on four 3-pointers, and was aided by a key impact off the bench from freshman Elissa Cunane, who chipped in 11 points and three rebounds. Duke relied heavily on its guards with junior Haley Gorecki leading the Blue Devils with 19 points and Mikayla Boykin adding 13. Duke played hard for three quarters, but got overwhelmed with physicality inside at the end of the game.
"You play the game with such tenacity and intensity," head coach Joanne P. McCallie stressed. "I think we did that for much of the game. But, to close out a game you've got to control the ball and rebound, and I think these guys were under-talked about."
The Wolfpack started off hot, as they rattled off eight straight points behind Konig, who extended her streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to 47 with two from the top of the key. Duke looked like it could fold early in front of an energetic crowd, but Boykin caught fire. The redshirt freshman, who was just 2-of-12 from deep coming into the game, nailed three triples in a row to give the Blue Devils a 15-13 lead at the end of the first.
The next 10 minutes proved to be a much tougher, sloppier battle as both teams spent time feeling out the physical nature of conference play. Duke (8-5, 0-1 in the ACC) made it a point to push the ball down the floor off of its many forced turnovers in the halfcourt, but often gave the ball right back to N.C. State. The two teams combined for a whopping 19 turnovers and seven lead changes in the first half and the teams found the score knotted at 29 entering the break.
The Wolfpack came into the game ranked eighth in the nation in rebounds per game with more than 46 per contest, but were held to just 19 in the first half. Most of their rebounding success comes from their defense, as no team had shot better than 40 percent from the field against N.C. State this year.
The Wolfpack ended the game with a 47-31 rebounding advantage, something that McCallie says killed Duke's chances at the end.
"You just can't give second shots like we did," McCallie said. "You've got to do a better job pursuing the ball, getting the ball, and having more possessions where defenses can defend us longer and we can put more pressure on their defenses."
Once the teams came out of the locker room, N.C. State (14-0, 1-0) seemed to find its groove and duplicated the strong start in the first half with a 9-0 run. Unlike the start of the game, however, the Blue Devils were unable to find a quick answer, and the Wolfpack found steady offense in the paint, giving them a 43-31 lead.
Luckily for Duke, a new Gorecki came out for the second half. The Palatine, Ill., native accounted for 10 of the Blue Devils’ 12 third quarter points, and a Boykin jumper to beat the buzzer cut the lead to just two.
The two squads continued to fight as the final period began, with the lead changing hands at the start. But, N.C. State went inside to the center Cunane, who led the charge on a 9-0 run to put the Wolfpack ahead for good.
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"I think our composure just fell," Gorecki said. "We can't slip up and let them get easy 50-50 balls. Our hustle play was supposed to determine this game."
Duke’s schedule doesn’t get any easier moving forward, as it will have a couple days to prepare for the home conference opener against No. 3 Louisville. The Blue Devils will look to avoid an 0-2 start in ACC with yet another opportunity to grab a resume building win.