With hopes of not only remaining a factor in the ACC race but also notching their first win at #5 Duke since 1995, NC State was more than motivated for Thursday night's battle. And they played that way out of the gates, scoring the first eight points of the game and leading by as many as 19 points in the first half. But while the Wolfpack would continue to control play in the early portion of the second half, the foul trouble that developed for Mark Gottfried's team in the first half began to take its toll.
Forward C.J. Williams would be the first to have to sit with his fourth four, which he picked up less than a minute into the half. C.J. Leslie, who accounted for 12 points and six blocked shots in the first half, would pick up his fourth foul with 14:42 remaining and NC State leading 53-37. As the foul trouble sent NC State's best big men to the bench Duke would do their best to hang around, ultimately falling behind 61-41 with 11:33 remaining on a pair of Lorenzo Brown free throws.
This would be where the rally would begin, as the Blue Devils refused to lie down and simply take their beating. From that point on Duke outscored the Wolfpack 37-12, winning 78-73 to remain in a three-way tie for first in the ACC with Florida State and North Carolina. Seth Curry, who left the game early due to an ankle injury, returned to lead the Blue Devils with 26 points and Austin Rivers was their only other double-digit scorer as he tallied 16. NC State had the offensive balance (Brown led the way with 19 points) but they didn't have composure as things got tight, and that ultimately made the difference.
"If you look at it for us, I thought our foul trouble really strapped us and made it difficult," said Gottfried. "We lost our aggressiveness when we got so many guys in foul trouble. That hurt. We have to do a better job at defending without fouling."
While it is important to point out what NC State did not do down the stretch the focus should be on what Duke was able to do in order to get back into the game. After their Super Bowl Sunday loss to Miami there were many doubters of Mike Krzyzewski's team, but this group has proven itself to be tougher than many thought they'd be. Duke didn't give up against North Carolina and they didn've give up against NC State either, which is a good sign for the Blue Devils as they begin the stretch run.
"Whatever string of things happened, we are 22-4, we've been in the top five of the RPI all year, and we're not a perfect team, but we're a good team," remarked Krzyzewski. "And we're a team that has fought and instead of talking about inconsistencies and starts and struggles and all of that we're 22-4 and we got some kids that really fought their butts off and gave us one of the incredible wins."
Other Notable Happenings
1. #21 Florida State takes advantage of poor foul shooting to remain tied for first in the ACC.
Similar to NC State, whose best big men would be taken off of the floor due to foul trouble, Virginia Tech saw three key big men leave the game at various points in their game at Florida State. That severely limited Seth Greenberg's rotation, and for a team that's been struggling of late this was the worst possible thing that could happen for the visitors. Florida State would fight their way through turnovers (finishing with 15) and a 1-for-8 night from the foul line to beat the Hokies 48-47 with Michael Snaer providing the final points. His three from the right wing, in a spot similar to where he released his game-winner at Duke, with just under three seconds remaining was an open shot due to the Hokies collapsing into the lane on defense despite leading by two.
Virginia Tech didn't exactly close the door down the stretch either as they missed five of their last six from the charity stripe, finishing 7-for-16 on the night. The Hokies led by 15 with 14 minutes to go and by eight with just over a minute remaining, but they simply did not have the horses beeded to the the win. Erick Green led the Hokies with 18 points and four steals while Ian Miller led a balanced FSU attack with 11 points off the bench. Florida State will live the fight another day, but given the way in which this loss happened it's going to be tough for the Hokies to right the ship.
2. #8 Michigan State controls play throughout in their win over #17 Wisconsin.
With two of the best teams in the country when it comes to guarding the three-point shot on the same floor, the open looks were expected to be few and far between for both Michigan State and Wisconsin. And with that being the case the team that was more effective inside of the arc would likely win, and that's exactly what happened as the Sparants pulled away late in the first half in their 69-55 win. Draymond Green led the way with the "Kevin Garnett Line" of 20 points, ten rebounds and five assists and Keith Appling would score 20 as well. Michigan State shot just 2-for-9 from three but they were able to make 59.4% of their shots from inside of the arc, and their 34-18 edge in the points in the paint category underlines how unwilling Tom Izzo's team was to settle for perimeter shots.
The Badgers made just five of their twenty-four shots from beyond the arc, and for a team that's as reliant on that shot as Wisconsin is they'll struggle when the shots aren't falling. Ryan Evans scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the way but Jordan Taylor struggled, scoring 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting from the field. Michigan State won the game inside of the arc, which is not only what they had to do but also what they wanted to do. The Spartans had at least six opportunities for the "old-fashioned" three-point play, and when they got to the charity stripe Michigan State took advantage there as well (19-24 FT). With the win Michigan State remains atop the Big Ten standings and also owns a sweep of the season series with Wisconsin, something that could come into play if tiebreakers are needed to determine the Big Ten champion.
3. C.J. McCollum's dagger pushes Lehigh past Bucknell in a key Patriot League battle.
Dave Paulsen's Bison had a chance to lock up at least a share of the Patriot League regular season title on Thursday night, but at the end of a tough battle with Lehigh it was C.J. McCollum who would make the big play. McCollum's three-pointer with less than a second remaining gave the Mountain Hawks the 56-53 win, keeping both Lehigh and American (8-3) alive in the Patriot League race. Lehigh shot just 33.3% from the field but their advantages from beyond the arc (18-9 in points) and the foul line (16-8) made up for their shooting at a 39.2% clip on two-point shots.
McCollum (15 points) and Mackey McKnight (ten points) shot a combined 8-for-22 from the field but that was OK as Lehigh defended Bucknell's interior star well. Muscala scored ten points and grabbed 12 rebounds but made just three of his twelve shots from the field, as the Mountain Hawks did their best to limit his clean looks. Clearly American will have something to say about a possible third meeting in the Patriot League title game, and the Eagles still have another shot at Bucknell next week. But in the race for the two-seed (at least) this win was a big one for Lehigh.
1. There's still a tie for first in the Pac-12 as both California and Washington picked up victories. The Huskies were able to hold off Arizona State 77-69 as Terrence Ross scored a team-high 18 points, and ASU didn't help themselves with an 11-for-21 night at the foul line. Things were much tougher for the Golden Bears as they needed an 11-2 run to beat Oregon 86-83 in Berkeley. Justin Cobbs scored a career-high 28 points and Harper Kamp added 20 as the Bears overcame a 33-point night from Devoe Joseph.
2. A game behind those two in the loss column are Colorado and Arizona, and the Wildcats received a welcome contribution from Brendon Lavender in their 76-72 win at Washington State. Lavender made five of his seven three-point attempts and scored 17 points to lead Arizona, who moved to 10-4 in conference play with the win.
3. Gonzaga moved into a tie for first place in the WCC with a 73-62 win at Santa Clara, withstanding a game effort from the Broncos due in large part to the play of forward Sam Dower and center Robert Sacre. Dower scored 18 points and grabbed seven boards off the bench and Sacre led the Zags with 20. A game behind the Bulldogs and Saint Mary's in the loss column is BYU, who used a 30-point night from Matt Carlino to win 85-84 at San Francisco.
4. West Virginia ran away in the second half as they paid back rival Pittsburgh with a 66-48 win at the Petersen Events Center. Kevin Jones scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and Truck Bryant added 15 off the bench as the Mountaineers picked up a win they couldn't afford to let slip away if they're to be an NCAA tournament team. Tray Woodall and Ashton Gibbs combined to shoot 7-for-27 from the field, scoring 20 points, and Pitt can't win if those two don't have it going offensively.
5. It's safe to say that things didn't go well for Ole Miss on Thursday night as they were whipped by Vanderbilt 102-76 in Oxford. Jeffery Taylor proved impossible to stop as he scored 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and John Jenkins added 26. The Rebels lost their composure as things got worse, and according to multiple reports there was a verbal altercation between Jelan Kendrick and Reginald Buckner outside of the locker room after the game.
6. LIU Brooklyn won a shootout in Brooklyn to remain in first place in the NEC as they beat Sacred Heart 103-91 in overtime. Jamal Olasewere (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Julian Boyd (20 points, nine rebounds) led the way in the frontcourt and Michael Culpo added 20 on the perimeter. Shane Gibson (24 points, five steals) and Justin Swidowski (23 points, five rebounds and three blocks) led the Pioneers, who could very well have to visit LIU again in the NEC quarterfinals.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Devoe Joseph (Oregon) and G Justin Cobbs (California)
In Cal's 86-83 win over Oregon, Cobbs accounted for 28 points, eight assists and four steals to lead the way. Joseph shot 10-for-17 from the field and scored 33 points to lead the Ducks.
2. G Matt Carlino (BYU)
30 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists in the Cougars' 85-84 win at San Francisco. Carlino also made the game-winning basket with 18.9 seconds remaining.