Duke entered the game with a gaudy record of 14-0 and had not trailed by more than a basket in the second half all season. Remarkably, NC State opened up a 19-point advantage on the Blue Devils with 5:43 remaining.
The Wolfpack is prone to doing things the hard way and an 11-0 run from Duke to cut the lead to eight with less than three minutes to go had the State faithful nervous. However, a huge dunk from BeeJay Anya, followed by a tip-in from Abdul-Malik Abu on the next possession gave the Pack some breathing room, and then six made free throws and a dunk from Desmond Lee followed.
The only thing left to be sorted after that was how to safely escort the members of press row out of the building to avoid the impending rush of the court from the student section.
Jahlil Okafor came into the game averaging almost 19 points and nine rebounds per game. The freshman, who has no business at all being in college and is proof that the rule denying high school players the chance to go professional is absurd, finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in as quiet a manner as possible. A
However, the strength of the wolf is in the pack, and NC State’s frontcourt, often maligned for its lack of production, came up huge collectively.
Starters Abdul-Malik Abu and Kyle Washington along with reserves BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman finished with a combined 35 points (16-27 from the floor), 20 rebounds, and eight blocks in the victory. Okafor was not stopped, but the quartet more than offset his production.
Trevor Lacey also shined on Sunday.
He finished with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting (5-for-7 from three-point range) and was fearless against one of the best teams in the nation. The transfer from Alabama is starting to make the jump towards elite status in the conference.
"I think he is as good a guard as there is," NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said. "I have watched Trevor for so long. People around the country are now just kind of seeing this guy. I thought his potential and his ceiling is so much higher than when he played at his previous school.
"I just think he is blossoming right now."
And NC State could also be blossoming.
The Pack, now 12-5 overall and 3-1 in league play, have the marquee win that at-large teams need to be included in the NCAA Tournament. State had the eighth-toughest schedule in the nation entering Sunday, with North Carolina sure to improve that ranking on Wednesday when the Tar Heels visit Raleigh.
The genesis of NC State’s confidence probably started when the Wolfpack had a one-point lead on the road at third-ranked Virginia earlier in the week. They lamented a lost opportunity at John Paul Jones Arena but held together when the going got tough to pull out a huge win.
So there is great joy in Wolfpack Nation as a bitter rival has been vanquished... that is until Wednesday when the Tar Heels visit PNC and everything is up for grabs again.
"There aren't very many easy nights to play in this league," said Gottfried. "It's a part of the turf. You have to step up and respond, and our guys have accepted that challenge.
"We have to see if we can play well on Wednesday."