Goodman: Players Believe in Lowe

TAMPA, Fla. - Duke had won seven of the past eight ACC tournament championships and advanced to Sunday's title game nine consecutive years.

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    "It's Thursday," Blue Devils sophomore point guard Greg Paulus said as he shook his head in disbelief after N.C. State pulled the first-round upset. "We just got here." But Coach K and his kids are going home.

    They will head back to Durham and try and fix the broken-down defense that was the only thing keeping Duke in the left side of the column earlier in the season.

    "We didn't really play any defense tonight," Duke big man Josh McRoberts said.

    The Blue Devils are 22-10 overall and could draw the dreaded No. 8-9 game come next week, which would pit them against one of the country's top four teams in the second round.

    "I don't think it's the same Duke team," N.C. State's Gavin Grant said. "I don't think it has any more talent than we do. Maybe more players, but not more talent."

    Wolfpack nation got its wish when it effectively chased Herb Sendek out of Raleigh last April. The rallying cry was that Sendek couldn't knock off the big boys, Duke and North Carolina.

    After knocking off Duke in the 1997 ACC tourney, Sendek's team lost a combined seven straight against the Blue Devils and Tar Heels in the postseason.

    Former N.C. State player Sidney Lowe, whose record was abysmal as a head coach in the NBA, has taken over and already posted a regular-season win at home against North Carolina — and now knocked off Duke to advance to the quarterfinals.

    Fans aren't the only ones singing Lowe's praise these days.

    "N.C. State basketball is definitely going to turn around with Coach Lowe," Grant said. "The way he coaches — with no fear."

    "He's made us believe," added fellow sophomore Courtney Fells.

    Duke players said they didn't notice anything different from the Sendek to the Lowe regime other than the contrasting style of play and maybe that the team is more physical than a year ago.

    Lowe gives his players more freedom and they get up and down the court quicker. Their 16-14 record and 5-11 mark in ACC play is misleading because they spent much of the season — a dozen games — without their senior leader Engin Atsur.

    "He's not only our leader, but he's a great player," N.C. State's Ben McCauley said. "He's our general."

    "They're a completely different team with him," admitted McRoberts.

    The general was clearly in charge against Duke on Thursday night. He scored 21 points and hit a couple of key 3-pointers early in the second half to keep the Wolfpack within striking distance. Then he knocked down a huge trifecta late in the game to put N.C. State ahead, 70-68.

    Brandon Costner did the rest.

    The 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman forward, who played just five games last season due to a stress fracture in his leg, did virtually whatever he wanted on the court and finished with a career-high 30 points and seven rebounds.

    The Blue Devils were shorthanded. Freshman Gerald Henderson Jr., the team's best perimeter defender, was forced to sit a few rows behind the Blue Devils bench in the stands after his one-game suspension for elbowing North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough in the nose in the regular-season finale.

    Henderson made the trip for nothing except to cheer on his teammates. His presence on the court wouldn't have made enough of a difference.

    "We haven't played well defensively for two weeks," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

    In fact, the Blue Devils have allowed more than 85 points in three straight games.

    "We've just got to get back to talking and communicating," Paulus said. "We need to straighten some things out."

    The problem is that the Blue Devils have either seven or eight

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