NC State came out fired up and ready to play on Senior Day, jumping out to an early 10-4 lead behind makes at the free throw line and solid defense. Duke battled back while knocking down free throws of their own, and took an 29-26 lead midway through the first half.
Freshman point guard Javy Gonzalez, who really struggled in the last outing against Florida State, came alive and hit two threes and a driving layup. After a dunk by fellow freshman Tracy Smith, the Pack led 33-29 and the crowd was alive in the RBC Center. The Wolfpack continued its strong play, taking a 41-33 lead following a deep 3-pointer by Dennis Horner, but Duke came right back and drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 41-39. State's hot shooting continued and after a nifty drive by Gonzalez and a layup by Ben McCauley, the Pack led 47-41 in the final minute of the first half. Duke's Taylor King hit a 3-pointer from the corner after receiving a pass from Gerald Henderson and the Pack led by just three at the half, 47-44.
NC State shot lights out in the first half, hitting 60% of its shots (15-25) and going 13-for-13 from the free throw line. Duke struggled shooting the basketball, knocking down just 35% of its shots, but did hit 16-of-18 free throws. Also, 10 NC State turnovers yielded six extra shots for the Blue Devils, and six 3-pointers kept the game close. The key to the first half may have been NC State's ability to make Duke a halfcourt team, as the Bule Devils totaled only three fastbreak points.
Both teams came out hitting shots to start the first half, but it was NC State who seized early control before the first TV timeout. After Duke cut NC State's lead to 49-48 following a Kyle Singler breakaway dunk, the Wolfpack went on a 12-5 run keyed by 3-pointers from Trevor Ferguson and Gonzalez. After Gonzalez's gave the Wolfpack a 61-53 advantage, the crowd was roaring and the Pack had all the momentum. NC State wouldn't quit there as the Pack kept hitting shots. This time it was McCauley's turn, as he scored on an up-and-under move in the paint and a 19-foot jumper to give the Pack a 70-57 lead as the 12-minute mark.
Everyone knew Duke would make a run, and they started it midway through the second half. The key weapon was Singler, as he came alive attacking the Pack's matchup zone from the top of the key. Following a Singler score over Horner, the Devils had narrowed State's lead to 75-57 with just under eight minutes remaining. Next was a deep three from Paulus and after a Brandon Costner intentional foul, Duke's DeMarcus Nelson knocked down another 3-pointer and just like that the Pack's 13-point lead was cut to two, 75-73.
State answered right back. After four free throws, Gavin Grant hit a tough midrange jumper, extending NC State's lead to 81-73 with just under five minutes remaining. Duke would hit a 3-pointer in transition, and the Pack followed with a layup by Smith. The next big basket would come from Duke's Nelson. After Gonzalez hit a free throw, Nelson drilled a 3-pointer right in front of Duke's bench, cutting State's lead to 84-82 with just over two minutes remaining. Duke wasn't done, as Paulus answered with another 3 and the Blue Devils, after trailing by 13 midway through the second half, had tied the game at 85 with 1:30 left.
The basket came off a drive by Gerald Henderson, who sucked in wing defender Fells, leaving Paulus wide open. The Blue Devils took their first lead of the game after Nelson hit two free throws, giving the Blue Devils an 87-86 advantage. The Pack had a costly turnover. Fells, looking for McCauley in the post, threw an errant pass and Duke took over with just over 40 seconds remaining. NC State chose not to foul and played solid defense, forcing a missed jumper by Scheyer with five seconds left. Fells grabbed the rebound but didn't call a timeout, and the best shot NC State could get was a midcourt heave from McCauley as time expired.
The one-point loss had to be tough for the Wolfpack, as they played well enough to win the game. The Pack hit 54% of its shots from the field and behind the 3-point line, while knocking down 86% of its free throws. However, four free throws missed down the stretch and 17 turnovers did in the Wolfpack. Duke shot just 39% from the field, but hit 13-of-28 3-pointers, and that was the difference in the ballgame.
"I thought we came out and played well," said NC State head coach Sidney Lowe. "We played with great energy and passion and we played together. Coach K told me that we out-played them today.
"You look back at things that happened that could have change things: missed free throws and leaving three point shooters open. All in all, we played well. I told the guys there isn't much I can say. I thought we went in and laid it out today."
NC State will conclude the regular season next Sunday at Wake Forest.