No. 20 N.C. State takes down No. 1 Duke, 84-76

Jan. 12, 2013 @ 05:51 PM

As fans flooded the PNC Arena floor in the aftermath of N.C. State’s 84-76 upset of nationally top-ranked Duke Saturday, Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried found senior Richard Howell.

“That was a grown man’s game,” the coach told his 6-foot-8, 257-pound powerhouse.

It had to be.

The Blue Devils (15-1, 2-1 ACC), hobbled particularly on defense by the absence of Ryan Kelly, were resilient to every surge by the No. 20 Wolfpack. Even when senior Mason Plumlee’s production sagged the first 15 minutes of the second half, ignitions from freshman Amile Jefferson, junior Josh Hairston and senior Seth Curry kept the Blue Devils within range of overcoming their first foray into a hostile environment.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Howell said after 18 rebounds and 16 points in 38 minutes. He never left the court after halftime, making all but one of his five shots, scoring 10 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.

“There was a timeout there where I challenged the team, is anyone else going to get one?” Gottfried said of Howell’s rebounding. “Richard said, ‘Don’t worry about it coach. I’ll get them all.”

He nearly did.

“I kept saying I had to get him out, get him a break, but I never did,” Gottfried said. “Then I said I’d use a timeout — he wasn’t coming out.”

“He does that to everybody,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s a unique player. He doesn’t need the ball long. He plays with amazing maturity. He’s so easy to play with. He’s in control, and powerful.”

Plumlee’s 15 points and 10 rebounds included just five points and two boards after intermission, including no field goals the first 15 minutes of the period.

“He’s big and strong,” Plumlee said of Howell, who took turns with C.J. Leslie applying individual pressure on Duke’s national player of the year candidate. “He’s a different kind of rebounder. He plays position to get them, and he’s got great hands. He gets his hands on it, it’s his.”

N.C. State (14-2, 3-0 ACC) utilized 6-foot-8 freshman T.J. Warren guarding both Curry (6-foot-2) and Rasheed Sulaimon. Curry had five of Duke’s six 3-pointers scoring 22 points, but Gottfried accurately noted how difficult he worked to get them and the Blue Devils never sustained their weaponry behind the arc.

Also decisive for the Wolfpack was superiority in transition, triggered by senior point guard Lorenzo Brown.

“His play the last eight minutes of the first half, and their transition offense is what won the game for them,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s as good a guard as there is in the country.”

And later, noting how Duke missed Kelly, he added, “Amile and Josh played well. We got 18 and nine from them. They just don’t know the defense and execution of the offense as well as Ryan. We’re not a great team with Ryan. We’re a really good team, but we’re better than our parts when we have them all together.”

Gottfried and his team spoke of learning their sum total as well.

“That’s one of the stepping stones we needed,” Howell said of beating a program with national stature.

And nearby in the lockerroom Brown added, “We’re definitely more talented than last year. I’m not sure we’re better yet, but we’re certainly more talented.”

Gottfried said the team deserved to celebrate the moment, even into the night. The Wolfpack has won 10 straight for the first time in more than 20 years. He wasn’t a wet blanket, but he did remind that a trip to Maryland comes Wednesday, that each game in an ACC 18-game schedule is just one opportunity and all count the same.

“Our younger guys are learning how to play, along with the older guys, of how to play together in a way that makes us better,” Gottfried said.

On a January Saturday, with nearly 20,000 roaring in their den, the Wolfpack was better. They were better than Duke, and parlayed the opportunity and effort into taking down No. 1.

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.