No. 1 Duke didn’t have enough in the tank to defeat N.C. State on the road Saturday, losing 84-76. With Ryan Kelly in street clothes and Seth Curry missing the end of the game after rolling his ankle, Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie were able to bully the Blue Devils and take control of the game.
Here’s your postgame recap:
Revisiting the three keys to the game:
- Picking up the slack in Ryan Kelly’s absence: Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson filled in admirably offensively and rebounding, but Ryan Kelly’s presence defensively was sorely missed. Jefferson fouled out midway through the second half and Josh Hairston couldn’t muscle C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell out of the paint. The duo proved they can fill in offensively, but the defense is what will be missed.
- Handling adversity in a hostile environment: Duke seemed to handle the environment, keeping the Wolfpack fans out of their heads. In the end, missed shots and missing stars is what did in the Blue Devils, not the NC State fans.
- Strong performances from the veterans: Seth Curry played a great game offensively, pouring in 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting — 5-of-10 from three. Mason Plumlee also resembled his old self, having 15 points, 11 boards, four steals, and two blocks. Now the concern turns to Curry’s health moving forward.
Three key plays of the game:
- 8:53, first half: Leading 25-19, Duke wasn’t ready to let up on their defensive intensity. Quinn Cook came up with a deflection that bounced off a few bodies before finding its way into the arms of Mason Plumlee. Wasting no time Plumlee raced down the court for a monster dunk. Plumlee showed up early and often in Ryan Kelly’s absence, already having eight points and six boards at that point.
- 14:03, second half: Trailing by eight, the Blue Devils needed a spark from their senior captain. Mason Plumlee came up with a resounding rejection on C.J. Leslie’s attempted dunk. Cook snagged the loose ball and started a fast break that ended in an easy Josh Hairston layup.
- 3:15, second half: Trying to free himself up using an away from the ball screen, Seth Curry rolled his ankle and stayed down on the ground. Curry was the focal point of the Duke offense in the second half and was the leading scorer with 22 points — shooting 5-of-10 from three-point range.
Three key stats:
- Richard Howell had 18 rebounds: Howell was a monster in the paint tonight, out-muscling the litany of backup Duke big men. Howell is a dominant rebounder in the ACC and is arguably the Wolfpack’s most important player. He and Leslie were the difference for N.C. State tonight.
- Rasheed Sulaimon missed all 10 of his shots: Sulaimon’s play has gone south of late, shooting just 7-for-32 in the month of January. Sulaimon’s offense was pivotal with Ryan Kelly out, and now is nothing short of mandatory with Seth Curry hurt. Poor offensive play from Sulaimon is going to be unacceptable moving forward.
- Three Blue Devils fouled out: Amile Jefferson, Tyler Thornton, and Quinn Cook all fouled out, due in part to the need to foul down the stretch. With healthy bodies few and far between right now, Duke can’t afford to give away fouls when the opposition is in no position to score.
And the Duke game ball goes to … Seth Curry. Curry played well today on his bum leg before turning his ankle and being forced from the action. Curry was the only option on offense in the second half and his veteran leadership was necessary with Kelly out of commission.
And the N.C. State game ball goes to … Richard Howell. The argument could be made for C.J. Leslie, but Howell’s rebounding was a difference maker in this one. Howell nabbed 18 rebounds and added 16 points, showing just how thin Duke is up front without Ryan Kelly.