RALEIGH – Ah, this must have been what it was like in the older, smaller ACC days when N.C. State played on an NCAA Tournament level with neighboring Duke and North Carolina for bragging rights in the Triangle.
Unranked N.C. State looked like anything but a team still seeking an NCAA bid as the Wolfpack thoroughly routed No. 6-ranked Duke 88-66 on Wednesday night at PNC Arena.
“We talked the last couple of days about what a great opportunity this was, and we stepped up to the opportunity,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “We’re a good basketball team when we’ve got everybody healthy. The only guy we don’t have is Pat (Andree). We want to build on this.”
N.C. State improved to 17-9 overall and 8-7- ACC play, but more importantly the Wolfpack is now 4-1 in “Quadrant 1” games. In other words, the “quality win” evaluation the NCAA Tournament committee uses to select its 68-team field. The lack of Q1 wins kept N.C. State out of last year’s NCAA field.
Duke (22-4, 12-3 ACC) is already a lock for the NCAA, of course, but the Blue Devils were made to look like a team struggling for NCAA credibility. The loss also cost the Blue Devils sole possession of first place in the ACC regular-season title race. Louisville (22-5, 13-3 ACC) edged ahead in the win column as the Cardinals beat Syracuse 90-66 earlier in the night to end a two-game losing streak.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praised N.C. State’s play, adding his team has won 22 game but isn’t a team that overpowers opponents despite the win total.
“We were not competitive tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “In order to beat them tonight, we had to be extremely competitive. You have to stay hungry while winning at that level. We’re not a team at that level. We’ve just won that many games. Tonight we weren’t competitive, but I like my team. That was our worst game, but they made us look back.”
N.C. State’s Devin Daniels has had a hot hand recently, scoring in double figures in eight of the last night games while averaging 14.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. But he turned up the heat against Duke, scoring on early drives to the basket en route to a career-high 25 points.
He topped his recent average with his 15th point on a free throw for a 29-17 lead with 7:07 left in the first half. He missed the second free throw, but this was N.C. State’s night. No one boxed out teammate C.J. Bryce, and he slipped under the basket for an easy put-back and 31-17 lead.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Daniels, a transfer guard by way Utah originally from Battle Creek, Mich., just missed a double-double with nine rebounds and three assists. He finished hit 8-of-15 field goals with 1-of-2 from beyond the arc.
N.C. State point guard Markell Johnson sometimes dribbled too much as he seemed more interested in beat Duke point guard Tre Jones with one-on-one plays, but he finished a game-high 28 points. He was 5-of-6 from three-point range, including his third half-court buzzer basket at intermission.
Redshirt junior D.J. Funderburke (6-10, 225) finished with 21 points and nine boards.
“Daniels right from the start was such an aggressor,” Krzyzewski said. “When Markell Johnson plays like that, they’re an elite team. He’s an elite guard. Congratulations to them, but we didn’t give them a good game.”
Keating said the game plan was to drive the ball after the Wolfpack struggled with its three-point shooting in Sunday’s 71-68 loss at Boston College.
“I thought our guys were driving the ball well,” hesaid. “We wanted to drive the ball after we missed too many three-point shots.”
Duke struggled with its shooting on field goals (37.7 percent, 26-of-69), three-pointers (23.5 percent, 4-of-17) and free throws (45.5 percent, 10-of-22). (37.7 percent field goals). The Blue Devils turned the ball over eight times in the first half, although they finished with only 10.
Freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. finished with a double-double of 27 points and 12 rebounds, but other than Jones no one else was in double figures. Jones finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.