The Blue Devils had cut the Wolfpack lead to just eight points, and the Devils had stalled the Pack offense. With the clock ticking down and Brian Zoubek in his face, Javi Gonzalez pulled up from way behind the 3-point arc. His prayer was answered right as the buzzer sounded, sailing through the net and putting a dagger in Duke's comeback hopes.
"It was time for us to hit one of those," head coach Sidney Lowe said.
The Devils would never get any closer, and a few minutes later a sea of red poured onto the court as fans celebrated the Pack's biggest win of the season. Behind hot shooting and tenacious defense, the Pack pulled off a 88-74 upset of No. 6 Duke on Wednesday night at the RBC Center.
"That was probably the closest we've come to playing a complete game," Lowe said. "From the beginning to the end, then to finish it off strong. The guys were just, I thought they were great."
The Pack executed its offense to perfection all game, utilizing big man Tracy Smith as the Devils refused to double-team him in the post. Smith responded by scoring a game-high 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting as none of Duke's big men could contain him by themselves. To top it all off, Smith celebrated his 22nd birthday as well.
"Best birthday present I got," Smith said.
Dennis Horner, coming off one of his worst performances of the season against Clemson, scored 20 points as all five starters for the Pack scored in double figures. Scott Wood, who didn't take a shot in the first half, added 10 points and Farnold Degand had 11 in the win. Javi Gonzalez, who also spent most of the Clemson game watching from the bench, bounced back with 15 points and eight assists.
"I apologized to the team because I wasn't giving my 100% out there on the court [against Clemson]," Gonzalez said. "But I had a meeting with coach and I talked to him and I got my mind right."
As a team the Pack shot 58 percent from the floor and 42 percent from behind the 3-point line. They also held the Blue Devils to just 39 percent from the floor and 38 percent from behind the arc.
"NC State played great tonight," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They were terrific. We wouldn't have beat them tonight if we had a week to prepare."
With a packed house in for one of its biggest rivals, the Pack came out of the gates with early energy it hadn't been able to find in other games. The offense clicked and the defense forced Duke out of its comfort zone, causing nine first-half turnovers. The Pack used an 11-2 run mid-way through the half to grab the lead, as Smith led the way with 14 points.
The Pack maintained its lead through hot shooting and Duke's struggles from the floor. The Pack shot 64 percent from the floor and hit 3-of-5 from behind the arc while the Devils shot just 42 percent from the floor but were 3-of-6 on 3-pointers. Duke kept the margin close by attacking the offensive glass, grabbing 11 rebounds on 18 misses. The home team pulled ahead by as much as 10 points, and had a six-point advantage until Nolan Smith hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to make the halftime score 41-38 in favor of the Pack.
"There are times this year where we took the lead then took the pedal off the metal," Wood said. "Today we held it on about seven RPMs and kept it there."
The home team emerged from the locker room even more energized than in the first half, expertly executing its offense to stretch its lead back into double digits. The Pack used an 11-3 run out of halftime to build its lead, making six of its first eight shots from the floor. A Scott Wood 3-pointer in transition gave the Pack a 14-point lead with 13 minutes remaining.
The Devils battled back, cutting the lead to eight points with four minutes left. But Gonzalez nailed a 3-pointer as the shot clocked expired to push the Pack's lead to double-digits. The Devils never got that close again, as the Pack matched them point-for-point down the stretch to pull out the win.