The Pack shot an astonishing 66.7 percent in the first half against the Blue Devils., yet trailed by one point. In the second half, Duke gradually pulled away, but left the door open along the way, as the Devils are prone to do. The freshman duo Anthony Barber and Lennard Freeman shined off the bench for N.C. State, combining for 25 points. Freeman also hauled down nine rebounds to come one board short of a double-double.
ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren finished with 21 points on 10-for-22 shooting. Oddly, it seemed like an off day for the sophomore against his hometown school. The day will come again when that will be considered a spectacular performance, especially against a top-10 team, but Warren, Who set a school record with his 29th game of at least 20 points this season, has been posting David Thompson-like statistics over the past few weeks. N.C. State will miss having almost 25 points a game to count on when he is gone.
Ralston Turner struggled, and his strife was more definitive. The transfer from LSU went two-for-10 from the floor, all from behind the three-point line. Duke finished 7-for-17 from behind the arch while the Pack could muster only 2-of-14. That was a crucial statistical loss for N.C. State, as three-pointers are always a major weapon for the Blue Devils.
As scintillating as N.C. State shot in the first half, Duke topped it after intermission, going 13-for-19 (68.4%). The Wolfpack could not mount a rally despite the Devils missing 11 free throws. State was a wretched 11-of-35 (35.5%) rom the floor in the second half, giving the impression that a game the Pack might have won with normal rest was left on the table due to it being the third game in three days.
After the dust settled in Greensboro, there was an amazing respite for the Pack when its name appeared on Joe Lunardi's Bracketology on the ESPN website. N.C. State was a 12-seed according to the analyst who makes less mistakes than a Greek God and the pending trip Spokane, Wash. never looked so good.
Alas, it turned out it was a mistake. Lunardi, or someone at the Mothership, mistakenly placed N.C. State's name in the bracket instead of Summit League champ North Dakota State, as if that is a common error. In a season where the Wolfpack came close after modest projections in the preseason, there was a symmetry to the typo. Wolfpack Nation, after an hour or so of hope, realized it actually just had the knife twisted a little more. Et tu, ESPN?
Wolfpack Nation now faces the task of balancing its disappointment of likely not receiving an NCAA berth with the lament of leaving several victories on the table (referee-aided and otherwise) along with being pragmatic about the expectations prior to the season. N.C. State actually surpassed what was expected.
If the Pack is assigned to the NIT, defeats against North Carolina Central, Missouri, at Wake Forest, at Syracuse and North Carolina will considered the culprits. There is no getting around the fact that an opportunity was lost.
The most endearing trait of this season's N.C. State team, and the one that made Mark Gottfried emotional after the Wolfpack's win over Syracuse on Friday, is its resiliency. There have been several times when State has been declared dead only to continue to press on and prove that it was not. In that regard, the Pack has represented the University well.
Playing in the NIT will be considered a disappointment when State looks to the Big Dance and sees teams it could have beaten or actually did defeat. Gottfried will have to call on that same attitude that took the Pack to the cusp of NCAA Tournament selection.
The fans will also be called on, as potential games in Reynolds Coliseum give them a chance to get the feel of 1970's and 1980's basketball at N.C. State.
Good basketball also can propel the program forward into the 2014-15 campaign. Warren will certainly need to be replaced, along with Jordan Vandenberg, but most everyone else will return. The starting lineup was fluid this season. Three of the bench players against Duke on Saturday (Freeman, Barber and Desmond Lee) were once starters. Gottfried has depth and experience and all positions and with next season's incoming freshman class should have even more options.
For all of the twist and turns, N.C. State basketball is still certainly at a better place.