DURHAM - NC State had the blueprint to pull off another upset against Duke, but weren't able to start executing it until it became too late.
No. 4-ranked Duke bombed away for 10 first-half three-pointers, and held off NC State's second-half surge with a parade of trips to the free-throw line Thursday to win 98-85 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke improved to 20-2 overall and 7-2 in the ACC, while NC State fell to16-7 overall and 5-5 in the league.
Duke senior center Mason Plumlee continued to build on his resume for the ACC player of the year award by leading the Blue Devils with 30 points and nine boards,
"Mason was such a man tonight," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I think he's playing as well as anybody in the country. His moves inside are really beautiful. He's playing through contact."
Duke evened the season series with NC State, but Krzyzewski said the players weren't seeking revenge after falling 84-76 to the Wolfpack on Jan. 12 in Raleigh. Krzyzewski knows the Wolfpack are a talented team capable of causing damage in the ACC Tournament, where the two programs could meet again in Greensboro.
"What a performance by both teams," Krzyzewski said. "That was ACC basketball tonight. I thought both teams played their hearts out. I don't know if we can play any harder or better in the first half.
"They are good, really good. I don't know how you couldn't be proud of both teams tonight. It would be nice if both of us were healthy in March because we both have really good basketball teams."
The Blue Devils shot 10 of 17 from three-point range (58.8 percent) and 19 of 31 overall (61.3 percent) in an impressive first half to build a 58-37 halftime lead.
"The way they started was just terrific," NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. "They played as well as I've seen them play. They shot the ball well. We had a hard time keeping them from scoring. After the first 8-to-10 minutes, they were sensational."
Sophomore point guard Quinn Cook hit four straight three-pointers, and fifth-year senior shooting guard Seth Curry added four of his own on nine attempts en route to 18 points in the first half.
Curry finished with 26 points, and Cook 21 in providing an outside punch to complement the interior work of Plumlee.
"We didn't match that intensity at the beginning of the game," said NCSU senior wing Scott Wood, who played with a groin injury during the second half. "We let Curry and Plumlee get going, which you can't do when you play against them."
Plumlee scored 15 points in each half, and lived at the free-throw line, going 12 of 16 in helping foul out NC State senior center Richard Howell and junior power forward C.J. Leslie.
Howell picked up two fouls and went to the bench with 14:07 left in the first half, making it even easier for Plumlee to work on the interior. Howell bounced back in the second half and carried NC State. He knocked in an array of mid-range jumpers and worked hard around the basket for a team-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
"I thought he [Howell] was really good and Plumlee played off him a little bit," Gottfried said. "He respected his ability to bounce it once or twice. He made a lot of jump shots. He rebounds like he does every night."
Leslie also found his offensive rhythm in the second half, scoring nine of his 16 points to form a strong one-two punch with Howell. NC State shot an impressive 19 of 29 for 65.5 percent after halftime.
"Howell is the unsung great player in our league," Krzyzewski said. "He can play for anybody. He puts up amazing efficient numbers."
NC State's perimeter defense also improved after halftime. Duke went 0 for 7 in the second half, but the damage was done.
"We just weren't chasing them [in the first half]," Wood said. "We said all practice that we have to chase them. We can't try and run over the screens, which we got caught on a couple of times, and they made us pay for it.
"Any time they run those baseline screens and you don't chase them, you are in a world of hurt."
NC State managed to get within striking distance after Howell made a jumper to cut it to 86-75 with 4:01 left, but the Wolfpack would have needed a near-perfect finish down the stretch to complete the comeback. Howell fouled out with 3:41 left, and Leslie later joined him at the 1:18 mark.
"Our guys battled hard," Gottfried said. "They played extremely hard and never quit. We just couldn't seem to get one or two more stops and scores at the same time, right when we needed to. We could almost get it to under 10 and get right in there, but they did a nice job of pushing it back out. Our kids played with a lot of heart, and theirs did as well."
Duke finished the game going 32 of 41 from the free-throw line (22 of 28 in the second half). Curry joined Plumlee in making frequent trips to the line, and finished 10 of 12. NC State managed just 11 of 19 from the line, but outscored Duke 50-30 in the paint.
"They went right at us and I thought we went right at them inside," Gottfried said.
NC State played without injured junior point guard Lorenzo Brown for the second full game. Freshman point guard Tyler Lewis earned his first NCSU start and came out aggressively and was one of the few that didn't struggle in the first half. He finished nine of his 13 points in the first half, and added six assists and had zero turnovers in 39 minutes of action.
"He's crafty," Cook said. "I've been playing with him since I was 9 years old. I'm good friends with his father [Rick Lewis], and he went to Oak Hill, so there was a little trash talking out there, but he's a great player."
Gottfried said after the game that he wasn't sure if Brown would play Sunday at Clemson, calling it a "day-by-day" situation.
Duke also played without power forward Ryan Kelly, a senior, and junior post player Josh Hairston. Kelly is out indefinitely with a foot injury, while Hairston recently came down with an infection on his arm, but is "doing better."
Wood and the Wolfpack never expected to be at .500 in the ACC in early February, but he remained optimistic.
"Sitting at 5-5 is not a great place to be, but you have to kind of look at the things that you can do better individually, and make sure we can stay together as a team," Wood said.