At home against a No. 1 team that was without one of its biggest assets, this was No. 20 NC State’s best opportunity to make a statement, and it did.
The interior combination of Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie took control in the second half to hand No. 1 Duke its first loss of the season, 84-76, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
Leslie finished with 25 points and six rebounds and Howell was a dominating force on the interior to tally 16 points and 18 rebounds.
On the perimeter, Lorenzo Brown outplayed Duke’s Quinn Cook at the point guard spot, scoring 12 points and dishing out 13 assists.
The win gives NC State its first win over a No. 1 team since it defeated Duke on Feb. 15, 2004.
Duke outrebounded NC State from the tip in the first half, exploiting the Wolfpack’s desire to get out in transition to beat them on the boards and get second-shot opportunities.
Player of the Year candidate Mason Plumlee was a big part of Duke’s early 14-4 advantage on the boards, which helped the Blue Devils take a 27-19 with 8:53 to play after a big Plumlee dunk.
On the following possession, NC State guard Scott Wood his a three-pointer and was fouled by Duke’s Tyler Thornton. The two exchanged words and were both charged with a technical foul.
That seemed to spark a fire under the Wolfpack, who ripped off a 14-2 run to take a four-point lead, 33-29, with 3:50 left in the first half.
Without sharpshooting forward Ryan Kelly in the lineup due to injury, Duke turned to freshman Amile Jefferson, who had seen limited minutes in his time with the Blue Devils. He came out hot against NC State.
Jefferson, a Philadelphia native, shot 4-of-5 from the floor in the first half for eight points and added three rebounds and two blocks. He finished with 10 points and four rebounds.
In the second half, NC State cleaned up the rebounding differential, translating into less second-chance opportunities for Duke.
Jefferson, so effective in the first half, picked up his fourth foul with just under 15 minutes to play and was forced to the bench. He came back into the game, but picked up his fifth with 8:07 to play.
NC State responded immediately with a basket from Purvis, plus the foul, which extended the lead to double digits, 67-57, the Wolfpack’s largest of the night.
A Seth Curry three-pointer pulled Duke within four points with 3:49 remaining, but that is as close as the Blue Devils would get.
Curry was injured in the final minutes after slipping under the basket and did not return.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_