STATE OF THE UNION: No. 2-seed Duke men's basketball shocked by NC State, ends ACC tournament in quarterfinals

Sophomore center Kyle Filipowski passes out from the top of the arc.
Sophomore center Kyle Filipowski passes out from the top of the arc.

WASHINGTON—Rudyard Kipling famously wrote that “the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” 

Duke had two wolves. N.C. State had a whole pack.

Despite entering the game as 11.5-point favorites, the second-seeded Blue Devils were forced to play from behind for the vast majority of their ACC tournament quarterfinal against No. 10-seed N.C. State at Capital One Arena Thursday evening. A colossal game from sophomore center Kyle Filipowski wasn’t enough to overcome his team’s woeful shooting or the Wolfpack’s locktight defense, and the Blue Devils head home early on the back of a heartbreaking 74-69 defeat.

"It's a disappointing loss for us, we wanted to make a run at this thing," head coach Jon Scheyer said postgame. "And coming off of Saturday, we've been able to spend a lot of time on ourselves for the first time, and that didn't translate fully. Clearly, N.C. State is playing the best basketball they've played probably, and you give them credit, they're talented. When you're playing in the postseason teams don't want to go away, you have to make them go away."

Down nine with 14 minutes to play in the second period, shooting barely above 20% from deep and under 40% from the floor, and facing early elimination from the ACC tournament the Blue Devils needed to rally. Sophomore forward Mark Mitchell popped up a line-drive 3-pointer that put some life back into the Duke bench before N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts called a timeout.

Filipowski held the ball high above his head to assess the floor before locking in, spinning and taking it himself for a one-handed hook shot. An inbound pass found his hand for a power dribble and another shallow floater. Tyrese Proctor knifed his way through the defense and kissed the ball in, prompting the bench and crowd to explode as Duke’s deficit dwindled to 50-48.

The Wolfpack responded with a tornado of points of their own and battled to rebuild their lead to multiple possessions, an advantage they had held since just before the halftime break. Casey Morsell, Michael O’Connell, DJ Horne and Mohamed Diarra each contributed to help hold the Blue Devils under their heel and surf their way to an eventual win.

Halfway through the final minute, however, N.C. State’s Ben Middlebrooks got the ball below the basket and went up for the slam. The ball bounced off the back iron as he hung on the rim, the refs called a technical foul and sent Jared McCain to the free-throw line, giving the Blue Devils a shot and a chance. Filipowski fought for a close bucket to cut it to two, but his fifth foul gave N.C. State a couple tries of its own to close the book on a frantic final minute. Horne sank both free throws, keeping his team’s remarkable run to the semifinals intact.

The game’s introductory minutes were a hollow bunch. Mitchell had the chance to open proceedings with a couple tries from the line but the sophomore forward banged both off the rim, contributing to a three-and-a-half-minute 0-0 deadlock. McCain eventually broke duck from the stripe himself and was quickly followed by some quick buckets by O’Connell, Horne and Filipowski.

"It's happened three games in a row, and that's a concern," Scheyer said of the slow start. "That's a big concern. I mean, even the start of the second half was the same way. And so as a coach, we have to have to figure out how to get that message across better or differently."

"It's all mentality," Roach said. "At the end of the day we just have to come out and compete."

In an opening reminiscent of the Blue Devils’ regular-season clash with N.C. State just 10 days ago, many — if not most — shots from both teams failed to find their targets. That was especially true for Duke and especially true from downtown. The Blue Devils, save some free throws and a few characteristic forays into the post by Filipowski, shot nothing but blanks from 3-point land for nearly 11 minutes. Proctor finally ended the drought from the top of the arc and followed it up with another three shortly after, keeping Duke within a possession of a Horne-led N.C. State.

The tides turned quickly from there, with a couple quick buckets by Filipowski and a two-handed slam by Mitchell handing the Blue Devils their first lead since McCain’s game-opening free throws. But no advantage seemed to last very long for Duke, which quickly surrendered the lead and failed to recapture it.

Filipowski was without a doubt Duke’s most effective and efficient player. The sophomore center, despite grabbing a couple fouls in the first half (just like he did last time against the Wolfpack) was imposing on both sides of the ball, using his size to make space for himself down low. His defense also took a massive leap forward, holding N.C. State stalwart big man DJ Burns Jr. to an unremarkable 10 points — nearly a perfect inverse of the meeting in Raleigh when Filipowski was the one getting outmuscled.

"I think both these guys were big-time competitors today, they almost willed us to win the game," Scheyer said of Mitchell and Filipowski. "They're playing a lot of minutes. Combined, they have 46 [points] and 22 [rebounds]. But I just thought they had the will to win, which is what you need, but we didn't have that collectively."

Horne was perhaps the most notable absentee — at least in spirit — from Duke’s win against the Wolfpack last week, but the graduate transfer came to play this time around. A contested three from the corner and a beat-down and-one were early highlights from the Raleigh native, who found a way through Proctor’s on-ball defense to make an impact. A buzzer-beating midrange jumper extended his team’s halftime lead from one to three and sent the Wolfpack into the locker room on a high before re-emerging with a layup in the second. That bucket capped a quick 6-0 run that forced a timeout from Scheyer.

But while N.C. State’s No. 0 was flying, his counterpart in white (McCain) was still grounded. That pair of early foul shots and a midrange floater a few minutes later were really all there was to speak of regarding the sparkling freshman guard. The Wolfpack did an excellent job of shutting McCain down in transition and held him mostly to contested attempts from the right corner, inhibiting his ability to affect the offense in a meaningful way. That, on top of four personal fouls, made for an abridged evening for the usually reliable — and dangerous — All-ACC rookie.

The Blue Devils now await Selection Sunday for their seeding in the Big Dance.

"We got the pieces to do what we need to do," Roach said. "Just got to go out there and make a run."


Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.

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