All good things must come to an end. After a 15-game winning streak vaulted Duke to the top of the polls and had many thinking of April confetti showers, the Blue Devils fell on the road to North Carolina State, 84-76, in a battle of ACC heavyweights.
It is hard to sit here and process everything that just happened and not think of two or three things that swung against Duke that were not necessarily within the control of the ten players on the floor or the two coaches. I won’t sit here and wax poetic about the referees — which were atrocious — because I believe N.C. State earned some praise in out-dueling the No. 1 team in the country. Even if Duke was without one it’s quickest guns.
I touched on Ryan Kelly‘s injury the other day and how his presence would be missed on the defensive end more than the offensive end of the floor due to the size and quickness of the Wolfpack’s frontline. That played out exactly how I expected it would with C.J. Leslie (25 points) abusing Josh Hairston and forcing the only player on Duke’s roster who could contain him (Amile Jefferson) to rack up fouls at an alarming rate. He looked every bit the preseason All-America that many had him pegged as, but it’s hard to imagine he would have been as effective with Kelly guarding him.
State pushed Duke around. At the end of the day it was the play of Leslie and Richard Howell (16 points, 18 rebounds) that made the biggest difference. Howell notched six quick points to start the second half that helped push State out ahead just enough that it seemed like the air had been completely taken out of Duke’s sails.
Some other things jumped out at me during this game besides the glaring lack of Ryan Kelly and I will attack them in bullet form.
- Scott Wood never misses on a catch-and-shoot. We learned this early and then forgot about it because Mike Krzyzewski stuck Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook firmly in his shorts for the entire second half.
- Something is up with Sulaimon and unless he figures it out, Duke is going to struggle against the upper echelon ACC teams. 0-for-10 shooting from the field today. Unacceptable.
- Where was Marshall Plumlee? The redshirt freshman big man could have been used early and often to bang with Howell and Leslie for stretches that would have kept Jefferson out of foul trouble. By the time we saw him, it was too late.
- Tyler Thornton morphed into something I didn’t like today. Usually a composed, veteran presence, Thornton got an early technical that cost him the first half and even when he was in the game, he was unusually quiet. He had been filling a great role and today, he did not do so.
- Seth Curry is our go-to guy. He made big shot after big shot until Howell’s sweat turned the region under the basket into an episode of Tom & Jerry. If he’s out for any time at all, that’s very bad news.
- Jefferson earned himself a healthy amount of playing time today. For his first big-time appearance, he passed with flying colors. Lessons learned today will turn him into a big-time player down the road and in the future.
So while this was the first loss for the Blue Devils in 2013, all is not lost. There are a lot of ACC games to play and a date in Durham next month with this same group still to go. There are things to gain from losing and how they bounce back from this one will say more about this team than the previous 15 games ever could have.
Jimmy Kelley is the founder and lead writer for Devils in Durham. Follow him on Twitter @jp_kelley