NC State senior power forward Dennis Horner production hasn't been the same since he injured his knee in the loss against Florida Jan. 3, while junior point guard Javier Gonzalez strong start has tailed off during the same four-game stretch.
Both players got the message this week from NCSU coach Sidney Lowe that they are needed to return to form for the Wolfpack to play their best against No. 7-ranked Duke at 9 p.m. tonight at the RBC Center.
"I made it known to them personally," Lowe said. "They knew how I felt about that. I'm pretty sure they got the point. The most important thing is for them to know what they mean to this team. We don't have a large margin for error, so we sort of need everybody pretty much to play well."
The 6-9, 226-pound Horner missed Monday's practice, but returned Tuesday. He has played well since banging his surgically repaired knee against former NCSU signee Dan Werner of the Gators. Horner had 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting in the 87-70 win over Holy Cross Jan. 6, and 12 points before fouling out against Virginia in the 70-62 loss Jan. 9.
Horner's production dropped off in the big win over No. 25-ranked Florida State Jan. 12, followed by the 73-70 loss to Clemson Jan. 16. He combined for 10 points (two vs. the Tigers), and averaged just 17.5 minutes per game - he's averaging 28.3 minutes on the season.
Horner has only had two rebounds, four assists and zero blocked shots in a three-game stretch against Virginia, FSU and Clemson.
Gonzalez appeared to solidify his hold on the point guard position with strong performances during the non-conference schedule, and a 18-point, 8-rebound effort in the ACC opener against Wake Forest Dec. 20. The 5-11, 175-pound floor general went scoreless with four turnovers in 10 minutes against Clemson.
Lowe wasn't sure what has led to Horner and Gonzalez's recent slumps, especially against Clemson, but added that Gonzalez had a strong practice Monday.
"I guess it just happened, they just didn't have a good game," Lowe said. "The most important thing is how do you bounce back from that? That's the most important thing."
Gonzalez scored in double figures in nine out of the first 14 games, but hasn't scored more than six (vs. Virginia) during his four-game slump. He is shooting 6 of 17 from the field, has six assists and 11 turnovers during that stretch.
No. 7 Duke (15-2, 3-1 ACC) at NC State (12-6, 1-3 ACC)
Game time: Today, Jan. 20, 9 p.m. - RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.
PG - 10 Javi Gonzalez (5-11, Jr., 9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.2 spg)
SG - 12 Farnold Degand (6-3, R-Sr., 6.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SF - 15 Scott Wood (6-7, Fr., 9.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.8 spg)
PF - 31 Dennis Horner (6-9, Sr., 12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.2 bpg)
C - 23 Tracy Smith (6-8, Jr., 16.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.1 bpg)
PG - 30 Jon Scheyer (6-5, Sr., 18.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.2 spg)
SG - 2 Nolan Smith (6-2, Jr., 18.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.3 spg)
SF - 12 Kyle Singler (6-8, Jr., 15.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.9 bpg)
PF - 42 Lance Thomas (6-8, Sr., 5.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.8 apg)
C - 21 Miles Plumlee (6-10, Soph., 8.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg)
Location: Durham, N.C.
Nickname: Blue Devils
2008-09 record: 30-7 overall, 11-5 ACC
2009 postseason: Lost 77-54 to Villanova in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, 30th season at Duke (775-217) and 35th overall (848-276)
The all-time series with NC State: Duke leads 135-96
Last meeting: Duke won 73-56 on Jan. 20, 2009, in Durham
Duke: Duke freshmen forwards Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly were both actively recruited by NC State at varying points of their prep careers at Arden (N.C.) Christ School and Raleigh Ravenscroft respectively. NC State, Virginia Tech and Virginia were among the first ACC schools to offer Kelly, and both players attended the Wolfpack elite camp, along with Mason's older brother Miles Plumlee … Mason Plumlee, who is close friends with NC State's Scott Wood (both are from Indiana), has scored in double figures off the bench in two out of the last three games. He had 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots against Wake Forest Jan. 17, and 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks against Georgia Tech Jan. 9. He went 2 for 10 from the field for four points, plus five rebounds, in the middle game against Boston College Jan. 13 … Freshman guard Andre Dawkins passed up playing a fifth year of high school, most likely at Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy with NCSU signee Lorenzo Brown, to enroll at Duke. He got off to a good start, but hasn't scored more than four points in the last five games … Scheyer has an impressive 6.1-to-1.5 assist to turnover ratio. He has played six games without committing a turnover, and three with just one turnover … Singler is "probable" for tonight's game after injuring his right wrist against the Demon Deacons.
NC State: The Wolfpack are playing their third straight ranked opponent after previously facing No. 25-ranked Florida State (88-81 victory) on Jan. 12, and falling 73-70 to No. 24-ranked Clemson on Jan. 16 … NC State has outscored its opponents in the second half in 13 out of 18 games, and 10 out of the last 12 … The Wolfpack are averaging eight three-pointers over the last eight games, including over 10 in four of those contests … Freshman power forward Richard Howell recorded his first career double-double against Clemson, with career-highs of 13 points and 12 rebounds … NC State's Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley scored 15 points apiece in the last meeting between the teams, a 73-56 loss in Durham. The Blue Devils overcame a four-point halftime deficit and closed the game with a 19-3 run … NC State signees Brown and Ryan Harrow of Marietta (Ga.) Walton are expected to attend the game tonight unofficially. Harrow scored 31 points in his return to the Raiders' lineup Tuesday night.