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Duke men's basketball looking to exorcise PNC Arena demons against NC State

Tre Jones and the Duke backcourt will be tested by N.C. State Wednesday.
Tre Jones and the Duke backcourt will be tested by N.C. State Wednesday.

Top recruiting classes, hitting at least one 3-pointer in a game and Cascada's "Everytime We Touch" have all been constants for Duke men's basketball this past decade. 

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, so is losing in PNC Arena.

No. 6 Duke will look to get over that hump and win their eighth straight game Wednesday night at 9 p.m. as they travel down I-40 to face North Carolina State. Road contests in the Wolfpack's gym have been a struggle over the last decade for Duke, losers of five of its last seven in PNC Arena, including a 2014 first round NCAA tournament loss to Mercer.

For Duke to overcome its road struggles against the Wolfpack, Tre Jones will need to continue his recent dominance against a deep crop of experienced N.C. State guards. In the Blue Devils' winning streak, the sophomore has racked up 42 assists to just 16 turnovers, while averaging 15.6 points per contest.

“He handles the ball a lot more," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a conference call Monday. "With R.J. [Barrett] and Zion [Williamson], they were two very unique players who needed to have the ball. [Tre] played a lot of minutes off the ball last year and now he has the ball a lot more. He makes plays for other people, whether they are assists or putting the next guy in better position to do his offense.”

The Blue Devils (22-3, 12-2 in ACC) should finally have a healthy rotation, as freshman wing Cassius Stanley is expected to play against the Wolfpack. The Sierra Canyon School product was warming up before Duke's win over Notre Dame Saturday and was inadvertently poked in the eye by a team manager. Stanley would go to the locker room and did not see action against the Fighting Irish.

“During shooting [in pregame], there are a lot of balls bouncing around, our managers are rebounding, and one of our managers went for a ball and poked [Stanley] in the eye," Krzyzewski said. "He had a puffy eye, swollen. He could not play. He felt better afterwards and saw our top eye person here yesterday. He’ll be ready to go for practice [Monday]”

A signature win has eluded N.C. State (16-9, 7-7) so far this season, as head coach Kevin Keatts' squad looks to escape the NCAA tournament bubble. Similar to Miami, the Wolfpack feature three upperclassmen guards in C.J. Bryce, Markell Johnson and Devon Daniels who all average over 12 points per contest. The Blue Devils were able to contain the Hurricanes' trio that included Chris Lykes, though N.C. State's backcourt should be a tougher challenge given its size and athleticism.

“We have a deep team and all the guys have contributed," Krzyzewski said. "They have good egos, they can come in like the second half against Notre Dame all of a sudden Alex [O’Connell], Joey [Baker] and Javin [DeLaurier] really provide an unbelievable burst for us. But the main thing is that [versatility] keeps us fresh.”

The Wolfpack will definitely be hungry to be playing for their season, facing No. 8 Florida State in their next matchup before traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium March 3. N.C. State will almost certainly need to win one—maybe more—of those games to have a fighting chance at hearing its name called on Selection Sunday.

Wednesday will kick off a stretch of three of four road games for the Blue Devils. However, with in-state away games and potential postseason locations in North Carolina, it's not out of the question that Duke could only leave its home state just once before the Sweet 16.

Editor's Note: This article was updated Tuesday at 5:05 p.m. to clarify that Krzyzewski said the quote about Stanley's injury.

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