NC State’s historic victory over top-ranked Duke on Saturday was over twenty years in the making. The moment that Pack fans ran (or wheeled) onto the court, symbolized that the Pack may actually be back.
For Mark Gottfried’s team to come out victorious on the day, the Pack not only needed to perform at a high level, but have a few things go their way.
When Mason Plumlee’s steal and breakaway dunk gave Duke their biggest lead of the game (27-19) about midway through the first half, PNC Arena fell almost silent. Scott Wood made his response on the next play, though, when hitting a deep three over Tyler Thornton and getting fouled. An exchange of words (and an elbow from Thornton) lead to a double technical, but sparked the home crowd. This play, and a thunderous dunk from freshman Rodney Purvis several minutes later, gave the Pack huge momentum in the first half. Wood would finish the first half with ten points (14 for the game) and made every shot he took. As has been a theme for the past four years, when Wood is hitting his shots, it’s tough to beat NC State.
One of the surprise moves from either coach on Saturday was the assignment of TJ Warren on the defensive end. When on the court, he was almost exclusively guarding sharpshooter Seth Curry. This was a strange match-up, but one that seemed to work somewhat well for Gottfried. Warren is not a defensive stopper, and is quite larger than Curry, but he did a good job of hedging screens and keeping his feet in front of the guard. Seth Curry got his 22 points, many of which when Warren was not guarding him, but he had to work for every one.
The biggest and most obvious keys to the big win were the performances of Lorenzo Brown, CJ Leslie, and Richard Howell. Brown shot 3-13 and had four turnovers, but more than made up for those with 12 points and 13 assists. Brown also went 5-6 from the free throw line, several of which came during crunch time. Leslie took the scoring burden upon himself, finishing with 25 points. He reminded us of the form he showed at the end of last season during the Pack’s postseason surge. Howell, meanwhile, absolutely dominated the boards in the second half to finish with 18 rebounds to go with his 16 points.
For NC State to even up the rebounding by the end of the game after such a disparity in the first half is somewhat miraculous. The Pack eventually finished with 34 total rebounds to Duke’s 35 (according to scacchoops.com). Another huge stat for the Pack was free throw shooting. Going 20-23 (87%) was totally unexpected, especially with so much pressure in the final minute. It’s been said all season that if the Pack can raise their free throw shooting percentage, then they would be tough to stop.
NC State did get a few breaks go there way in this game, as was expected if the Wolfpack were to take down a top-ranked team. Obviously, Ryan Kelly being out for the game was a huge break for the Pack. A third scoring threat might have been too much for Gottfried’s club to handle. Seth Curry going down at the end of the game may have made a difference in the final outcome, as it took away the Blue Devils’ primary scoring threat late.
The raucous atmosphere definitely made a difference in this game as well, as it was evident that the noise and pride in that building spurred the players on to deliver a magical performance. Lorenzo Brown said earlier in the week that he had always wanted to experience a court-storming. One could sense it would be inevitable if State could pull off the upset. The team and the fans all got their wish on a big day for NC State basketball.