For twenty minutes of basketball on Thursday night, Duke looked like the best team in the country. The Blue Devils made 19-of-31 shots in the first half, including 10-of-17 from three, en route to a 58-37 halftime lead over N.C. State. Even when Duke’s offense fell off in the second half, their first half explosion was enough to hold off the Wolfpack for a 98-85 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
All signs pointed towards a big game from Duke early when Rasheed Sulaimon got the game started with an old-school three-point play and a three-pointer for the Blue Devils first six points. This came after the freshman guard missed all 10 shots he took from the field the last time the two teams faced each other and with his contributions in tow, things got off to about as good of a start as Mike Krzyzewski could have imagined.
The hot start kept up through the under-12 media timeout. Back-to-back threes by Quinn Cook widened the lead to 28-11 lead with 11:10 to play in the half. Duke’s offense was scorching hot, but N.C. State’s was just as cold. In their second full game without Lorenzo Brown the difference between the team that beat Duke in Raleigh and the team that showed up in Cameron was palpable.
Tyler Lewis (13 points, six assists) played exceptionally well, which isn’t a surprise to anyone who is familiar with him, but to expect him to deliver the same type of impact as Brown — especially on defense — is asking a lot of the freshman. State managed to finish the first half with 37 points but with their defense struggling to stop anyone the Wolfpack had dug themselves an insurmountable deficit.
Or so it seemed.
Richard Howell played like a man possessed in the second half. He scored 14 of his team-high 23 points in the second frame and did it in every way imaginable. Dunks, lay ups, put backs and even a few elbow jumpers over Mason Plumlee. Howell almost singlehandedly brought the Wolfpack back in this one before fouling out with 4:01 to play on a flagrant foul on Plumlee.
When Howell fouled out the deficit had been cut to 11 and a three by Scott Wood cut the lead to it’s smallest a few minutes later at 93-85. That Wood three would be their last basket though as Seth Curry and Plumlee would sink free throws down the stretch to ice the victory.
Plumlee finished with a game-high 30 points with nine rebounds while Curry (26 points, 6-for-15 FG, 10-for-12 FT) and Cook (6-for-8 FG, 4-for-5 3PT) also topped the 20-point plateau. Sulaimon added 11 while Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy chipped in four apiece.
Jimmy Kelley is the founder and lead writer of Devils in Durham. Follow him on Twitter @DevilsinDurham