In Duke’s loss Saturday at Virginia, players other than Tre Jones and Vernon Carey Jr. shot 6-for-34. The Blue Devil bench responded Monday night against North Carolina State draining 10 of 15 shots...in the first half.
Veterans Jordan Goldwire and Justin Robinson provided the spark the 12th-ranked Blue Devils needed to erase another poor start and ultimately avoid a third consecutive defeat. Cassius Stanley would lead Duke in scoring with 18, but it was Robinson’s eight first-half points that headlined the home team’s 88-69 victory in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“It’s amazing. When J-Rob comes in and gives us a lift like that, it really lifts everyone,” senior captain Javin DeLaurier said. “He’s a guy who’s come in—for the four years I’ve been here—every day in practice works his butt off just making everybody better and getting better himself. When he steps on the court, he’s always ready when his number is called, and he proved that tonight…. J-Rob came through big time.”
The Blue Devils (24-6, 14-5 in the ACC) missed 12 of their first 13 shots and quickly found themselves in an eight-point hole against the Wolfpack. While slow starts have become the norm for the team, no one in Cameron could have predicted what came next: Duke’s 11th man quickly became its first man.
Robinson drained a triple to cut the N.C. State lead to 20-15. A minute later, Robinson struck again with another conversion from downtown to cut the lead to three. With the game eventually knotted at 23, it was the San Antonio native who would grab the offensive rebound and slam it home to give Duke its first advantage of the evening, capping a 13-3 Blue Devil run.
“We needed a little more energy on defense, and then once our defense picks up our offense always follows,” Robinson said. “Anytime I get a chance to play I want to bring energy, I want to bring leadership and talk. Luckily I got a couple shots to fall early and that was able to help a lot.”
While the Wolfpack (18-12, 9-10) would counter with a 9-0 run of their own to retake a 32-25 lead, Robinson bought Duke’s go-to scorers enough time to find their rhythm and carry the team the rest of the way. Carey bullied his way to the line late in the half, looking more reminiscent of the player that dominated the Wolfpack for 27 points and 12 rebounds in Raleigh. Carey finished the half with seven points and Wendell Moore Jr., added four in the final 30 seconds as Duke entered the locker room with the 38-36 edge.
Out of the break, it was Stanley’s turn to shine.
After struggling mightily in the opening 20 minutes, the switch flipped in the second half. Stanley unleashed a level of aggression that had been missing during the past few weeks, leading the Blue Devils on a game-deciding 13-3 run that was capped by arguably his most explosive dunk of the season.
Stanley was long overdue for a dominant outburst after a dismal last three halves. He was a nonfactor against Virginia in a 1-for-9 effort and could not find the bucket once again in the first half Monday.
“Everyone goes through ups and downs throughout the course of the season and we have faith in one another,” DeLaurier said. “We know Cassius is always going to bring it, he’s competitive. He really exploded in the second half and helped us win tonight.”
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While Robinson and Stanley stole the show, Duke’s victory was a total team effort. Goldwire added 11 points after a couple slow games offensively, Moore added 10 points and six rebounds, and Matthew Hurt rebounded from a brutal set of minutes against Virginia with a strong seven-point, four-rebound performance as well.
The Blue Devils’ turnaround comes at a crucial time following back-to-back losses. Duke needed to get back on track heading into the elimination games that will headline the rest of the month. The Blue Devils will return to the floor Saturday to close the regular season against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina.