In the toughest times, people often seek comfort in being surrounded by those who care the most. In the moment of truth, those with the most character tend to respond best to challenges.
Mark Gottfried has suffered some excruciating defeats to Duke over the years, particularly in games played in Durham or neutral sites.
While an assistant at UCLA, he traveled to Cameron Indoor Stadium to battle the two-time defending national champions in 1993. Duke, who was also celebrating the retiring of Bobby Hurley’s jersey, would ultimately edge the Bruins late.
Four seasons later it was Murray State with Gottfried as its head coach taking on a ACC regular season champion Duke team during a NCAA Tournament matchup in the Charlotte Coliseum. After being down double digits, the Racers would fall short, with a potential game-tying shot from beyond halfcourt bouncing of the rim at the buzzer.
At NC State it has been tough as well. The Wolfpack could not hold on to a 20-point lead in Cameron in 2012 during Gottfried’s first season at the helm. Duke, which also knocked off State at home the following two seasons, has also defeated the Pack in each of the last three ACC Tournaments. The Blue Devils won all three matchups in 2016.
Yet his team, despite its recent results, somehow found the fortitude to rally to victory in an incredibly loud arena that over the years has seen many wilt under pressure
Dennis Smith Jr. officially entered Wolfpack lore Monday night in Durham. He drove to the basket with relative ease as no one on Duke’s team seemed to have the ability to deny the freshman what he wanted. His 32 points will carry a lot of weight as time goes by but the truth is the Blue Devils are lucky it was not worse. Smith missed seven field goals and seven free throws. He could have easily dropped 40-to-45 points on Duke.
Smith will likely be asked many times in his life by NC State fans to sign a photo of his wicked slam after the final buzzer following the steal that secured the victory. It was the Wolfpack's first win in Durham since 1995. A nullified basket never has meant so much to so many.
As a team, NC State missed 10 free throws and several shots inside, although the Wolfpack did shoot over 50 percent from the floor. Despite those stats, State still managed to score 84 points against a ranked opponent on the road. There is hope for better days ahead.
All things considered, if the Pack had been more efficient they likely would have finished with around 100 points. It will be interesting to see if Duke gets the same type of grief for its defense that NC State has been forced to endure for its lapses this season.
Gottfried 'had a hunch and bet a bunch' on Ted Kapita and it worked out well for NC State. The freshman shrugged off foul trouble to post a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) in only 19 minutes and was impactful. It was clear early on that the slower frontcourt players -- Omer Yurtseven and BeeJay Anya -- would not be effective while slender, quicker bigs like Kapita and Abdul-Malik Abu could cause Duke problems.
Abu, who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, seemed to pick up steam as the game progressed. When Duke focused on Smith, the entry pass to Abu would ensue and good things generally happened. The junior has had some big games against the Blue Devils in his career and seems confident whenever he plays them.
Afterwards there was Gottfried in the press room left with the task of describing it all.
When a person speaks, the answers that are asked for represent what the brain thinks but the responses given unsolicited generally are the ones that come from the heart.
The veteran coach mentioned how meaningful the win, his 400th coaching victory in his career, was considering that his dad was there to support him. No one in the media had asked him about his family prior to the statement.
As he left Cameron Indoor Stadium with a smile on his face, Gottfried was asked to pose for a photo with his father. He cheerfully complied and beamed as the shots were taken.
NC State will have its ebbs and flows. Those who have been critical of Gottfried and the Wolfpack will once again have their seminal moment to point to somewhere down the road. The coaching staff will soon break down the film and discover that State left things on the table. There is room for improvement.
However, the Pack did max out on heart and character in Durham. For one day at least, the adversity of the season brought out the best in NC State. That led to Gottfried smiling and savoring a special moment with his family while Wolfpack Nation was dancing and shutting down Hillsborough Street.
Life is short and precious. It is best to face the challenges but also enjoy the good days when they come, particularly those that are the result of hard work being rewarded.
Monday was special for NC State. The entire college basketball world saw what the Wolfpack can be when everyone pulls together.