Ice and snow filled the roads outside, but both N.C. State and Duke got red hot inside PNC Arena on Saturday afternoon. After a blistering start from the Wolfpack in the first half, Duke sealed the win to snap a three-game losing streak in a 88-78 win.
Grayson Allen led the Blue Devils with 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, finishing 11-of-17 from the floor. Brandon Ingram put on a similar show with 25 points and seven rebounds to finally earn a much-needed victory for the Devils.
It was a tale of two halves for Cat Barber, who finished with 19 points – scoring just three in the second half. An apparent knee injury had a lot to do with the drought in the second half, leaving Abdul-Malik Abu (14 points), Cody Martin (12 points) and others to pick up the slack.
Despite the blustering conditions outside, the Wolfpack’s fan base showed up in full force – something that didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Mark Gottfried.
“I also want to say thank you to the Wolfpack Nation,” Gottfried said. “Wow. I am so proud of our fans, I’m so proud of the way they came out today. With the weather, and the governor making a statement, our fans came. I’m just so proud of our fans.”
As both teams head their separate ways before another matchup on Feb. 6 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, here’s a look at what we learned from Duke’s significant win.
Duke’s Post Problems Continue, Help On the Way?
The Blue Devils may have ran away in the second half thanks to their outside shooting, but it was clear there was a mismatch in the post. Marshall Plumlee finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, serving as the lone inside presence yet again for Duke.
Luckily, it appears help might be on the way. Amile Jefferson, who has missed the last 11 games with a foot injury, was seen walking without a boot or crutches. His return would be massive for a Duke team that has struggled in ACC play thus far.
“We’re trying to get him now to walk properly,” Krzyzewski said of Jefferson. “There’s still no timetable. The bone has healed pretty well, but he’s still not there.”
Thanks to the development of Plumlee down low, the Devils might be in a better position come tournament time. But with games against Miami, Louisville and Virginia before Valentine’s Day, getting Jefferson back soon could mean a substantial boost for Duke’s seed in March.
Blue Devils Avoid Epic Loss
Losing three straight for Duke was shocking, regardless of injuries and depth issues the team has dealt with. However, dropping to 3-4 in conference after a loss at PNC Arena would have been crippling given the upcoming schedule.
Duke didn’t lose, but it still has a chance to drop outside of the Associated Press top 25. After 166 straight weeks inside the AP poll, the Syracuse loss will still likely leave Mike Krzyzewski’s squad on the outside looking in.
Is this team better than its current ranking? With a healthy Jefferson, yes. Without him, nope.
Cat Barber Continues to Amaze
Regardless of where this N.C. State team ends up in the ACC, nobody can take anything away from Cat Barber. The Pack’s only surefire consistent star is a contender for the ACC Player of the Year despite being on a team that is currently 1-6 in conference play.
How crucial is Barber? His knee injury in the second half – which he played through – signaled a huge swing in the game. After colliding with a Duke player early in the first half, Barber was limited to zero points on just two shots in the final 15 minutes.
“I think he got hurt a little bit too,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I hope he’s not hurt but you could see something happened. That type of thing happens to us too and they’re marginalized with that as well. They can’t afford to not have him on the court – he’s one of the best players in the country.
“He’s so dangerous, he’s really damn good.”
After scoring 16 points in the first half, Barber’s ineffectiveness left the supporting cast to carry State. It couldn’t. Barber’s sharp shooting and passing skills helped the Pack shoot 6-of-9 from three in the first half – including six straight at one point. State shot 1-of-11 from behind the arch following the injury.
Barber will need to be at full health against Georgia Tech to build confidence before facing Miami.
For Duke, the upcoming seven games can make or break the entire season. Traveling to Miami then Georgia Tech before returning home to N.C. State, Louisville and Virginia is tough enough. Then tack on a road rivalry game against North Carolina then taking on the Cardinals at Louisville.
That, my friends, is called murderer’s row.
If the Devils survive and get Jefferson back somewhere in the middle, a top-five seed in the ACC tourney still seems attainable. Finishing .500 or worse over that stretch might lead to an unprecedented Tuesday start in the first round.
Meanwhile, State is all but assured to start on Tuesday of the ACC tournament after dropping to 11-9 on the season. With games coming up against Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State and Duke, the Pack can only hope to come away with two wins over the next two weeks.
Even after a strong showing from both on Saturday, that’s about all the Pack and its fan base can hope for at this point.