Different directions

Mar. 15, 2014 @ 11:45 PM

N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried thinks there’s still something “special” left for his team — wherever that may be.

It won’t be in Sunday's ACC Tournament final, where the Wolfpack could have erased any doubt about an NCAA Tournament bid. The spot in the final instead belongs to third-seeded Duke, seeking its 20th ACC championship today against top-seeded Virginia following a 75-67 win over N.C. State Saturday in Greensboro Coliseum.

The seventh-seeded Wolfpack (21-13) posted wins over Miami and Syracuse before being eliminated and now awaits its postseason fate. Gottfried lobbied for it to be in the NCAA Tournament — and had support from a Tobacco Road rival.

“I think we showed that we certainly belong in the field of 68,” said Gottfried.

“This team we played today is really good,” said Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. “I think Mark has done a fabulous job with his team. I wouldn’t want to play them in the NCAA Tournament.”

Krzyzewski said the ACC doesn’t get the respect it deserves and noted Duke’s hard-fought, 63-62 win over Clemson in the quarterfinals. The Tigers (20-12) are another side thought to be on the NCAA tourney bubble.

The Blue Devils (26-7) turned up their defensive intensity in the second half against N.C. State. The nation’s seventh-ranked team held the Wolfpack to 35.5 percent shooting in the second and limited T.J. Warren, the league’s player of the year, to 21 points.

Jabari Parker led Duke with 20 points while grabbing eight rebounds and Rasheed Sulaimon had 16 points. Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook each tallied 14 points.

Warren had 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half. In the second, Hood altered his approach to guarding Warren and the N.C. State sophomore subsequently shot 4-of-13.

Lennard Freeman scored 13 points for the Wolfpack and point guard Anthony Barber came off the bench to net 12 points.

“I think we played more connected on the defensive end,” Hood said of the second half. “We made some subtle adjustments. We knew T.J. was going to get his points; he’s a great scorer.”

“They made it really hard for him to catch the ball,” Gottfried said of Duke’s defense on Warren. “It became hard for him to get it where he wanted to get it.”

The Blue Devils shot 57.1 percent and improved to 14-9 all-time against N.C. State in the ACC tourney.

On his 19th birthday, Parker delivered his 16th consecutive double-figure scoring game and energized the Duke faithful with an emphatic one-handed jam in transition. The soaring second-half slam, scored off of a Wolfpack turnover, was part of a 16-4 run for the Blue Devils.

Krzyzewski doesn’t seem concerned about what his team’s second meeting against the Cavaliers (27-6), ranked sixth nationally, could mean for seeding in the NCAAs. Duke won the regular season meeting, 69-65, in Durham.

“We just know that they’ve been great all year and as consistent a team as there’s been in the country,” said Krzyzewski.

N.C. State hasn’t been as steady. Gottfried noted the Wolfpack’s non-conference schedule, which included losses to Cincinnati and N.C. Central and a win at Tennessee, before a 9-9 ACC campaign.

“I think our league is a great league,” said Gottfried. “I hope that we don’t get penalized with our record in the league when you play in a great league like ours.”

The penalty would mean N.C. State missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Gottfried’s three-season tenure in Raleigh. An NIT bid may not be included in the special ending the Wolfpack coach has in mind.

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.