NC State gets first win at Duke since 1995, proves 2017 worth
Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t think there was any ‘saving,’ to do to NC State’s basketball season.
But the Wolfpack ’s(14-7, 3-5 ACC) 84-82 upset of No. 17 Duke (15-5, 3-4 ACC) proved that Mark Gottfried’s squad is more competitive than anyone realizes, the star freshman knows.
“We’re better than what a lot of people think,” Smith said. “A lot of people got down on us with a couple of losses. We never got down on each other though, we always believed in each other.”
“It tells you something about our team,” Gottfried said. “We get beat by Wake and we’re grumpy -- I understand that Wolfpack fans are grumpy, we’re grumpy too.
“As a coach it makes you feel good that your team walks in and doesn’t pout the next day. They bounce back for the next challenge. I had a good feeling.”
It wasn’t easy going for the Wolfpack, which trailed by as many as 12 points. A 8-0 Duke scoring run late in the first half made it seem like the home team would send its visitor to the lockerroom with a big hole to climb out of. Smith, however, had other plans.
His old-fashioned three-point play, then a behind-the-arc shot put NC State within six at the break.
“I feel like there are sometimes when somebody has to quiet the crowd,” he said. “At the time, it had to be me. I went in and I took what they gave me.”
Smith didn’t quite match his 18 first-half points, finishing with 32 in the game. But fellow freshman Ted Kapita’s four-point, four-rebound first half was a modest harbinger of things to come.
The 6-foot-8 rookie sat out of the last two games for NC State, but Gottfried’s gut told him the unofficial mini suspension should end.
“I had a hunch he needs to play,” Gottfried said. “I felt like he deserved a chance, so I made the decision to bring him off the bench first and I knew that was something, I thought he came in and gave us a big lift.”
Kapita continued to lift the Pack in the second half, serving as half of a 1-2 big guy punch with Abdul-Malik Abu. The pair grabbed 13 of NC State’s 24 second-half rebounds and combined for exactly half of the Pack’s 46 second-half points.
“My dream was always to win in Cameron, I got that,” junior Abu said. “I know one thing, man, never give up, use your heart, use your willpower, use your soul.”
The energy and effort that the Pack played with, along with that heart, was the difference in the win.
Duke lead by eight points with 10 and a half minutes to play, but NC State was determined to make this visit to a local rival different than its first of the season.
“I know we didn’t want a repeat of what happened at Carolina, that’s the main thing, we only play them once,” Smith said. “We get Carolina again, we don’t play Duke again. We got to come out and make a statement.”
Kapita scored six of his points to help his team chip away at Duke’s lead before fouling out with about five minutes to go. Those next five minutes were where the Wolfpack won out.
Abu grabbed four defensive rebounds (of his nine total) as Duke’s shot slipped away from its game and Smith got three of his four rebounds of the game in those final minutes. Maverick Rowan’s lone rebound in the final stretch set up a Smith three that gave the Pack a slim 72-70 lead with 3:11 left.
Luke Kennard’s three on Duke’s next possession gave the Blue Devils their last lead of the game. Abu, then Rowan, then Smith scored points without interruption to put the Pack up by six, then held on through 87 seconds of play.
Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum both made layups to try and comeback and preserve Duke’s 124-game home win streak against unranked opponents, but NC State made just enough free throws late to hold on.
The win is one that NC State has to build on, rather than faltering like it did after upsetting then-ranked Virginia Tech 19 days earlier.
“We’ve taken a few hits, obviously and I think it shows a lot about character after you take a few hits to come and win a game like this one,” Gottfried said. “It gives us a little confidence moving forward. I’m still learning about our team, who needs to play.”
Gottfried said that he saw a particular look in Smith’s eyes before this one, and he saw the look in the other members of his team’s eyes too. If the play against the Blue Devils is any indicator, the look indicates effort.
“It’s just effort, that’s the main thing. Everybody gave maximum effort the entire effort and that’s the key,” Smith said.
Is this game an eye opener? “It could be, it could’ve gotten some jitters out for some players, including myself,” the point guard admitted. “We’re going to keep it rolling at Louisville, it’s a turnaround.”
A season-changer, the Pack hopes, punctuated by a final point-less play by its star.
“Nah, I knew it didn’t count,” Smith said of his after-the-buzzer banger. “I knew it had no chance of counting. It’s just a statement, that’s it.”