Duke destroys NC State behind strong defensive effort
By: Kevin Wheeler
With two seconds left in the game, NC State’s Caleb Martin threw an alley-oop pass to guard Desmond Lee, who caught it and failed miserably on his dunk attempt as time expired. That was just the way the Wolfpack’s night went against Duke.
Behind a dominating first half, the Duke Blue Devils defeated NC State 77-53 on Thursday night to advance to the semifinal round of the 2015 ACC Tournament.
The game ended in complete domination by Duke in all phases of play. The Blue Devils never relinquished the lead and opened up an 11-point lead by the 13-minute mark of the first half. That was the smallest deficit the Wolfpack faced from that point on.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski implemented a new 1-3-1 zone defense that helped hold the Wolfpack to just 35% (20-56) shooting on the night.
“[Our players] picked it up really well in our walk through today in our game preparation,” he said. “They’ve done that throughout the last couple of months whenever we’ve done something a little bit differently defensively. They believe in it.”
Krzyzewski added that the main focus of the new zone defense was on limiting the Wolfpack’s penetration, and it relied heavily on his team’s on-court communication to make it work, which he deemed to be successful.
Duke junior forward Marshall Plumlee contributed 12 points to Duke’s offensive effort, all off of dunks, and he exemplified his head coach’s sentiment.
“We’ve really focused and prided ourselves in preparation,” he said. “I think we can attribute tonight especially to preparation. We had a game plan and, in a short amount of time, we were able to come together, listen to coach and show some discipline by executing it in the game.”
Gottfried also said he thought his team’s offensive struggles resonated with Duke’s defense.
“They played match up zone and really put a lot of attention on not letting [Lacey and Barber] room to operate,” he said. “We didn’t move the ball well, and we didn’t move our bodies well. We tried to put a square peg in a round hole … we tried to do too much by ourselves.”
But it wasn’t just the Blue Devils’ defense that created their large lead. Duke shot an overwhelming 56% (30-53) from the floor and out scored NC State 46 to 22 in the paint.
Duke led the Wolfpack by 27 points at halftime, which was the largest halftime lead of any ACC Tournament game since 1999, behind 17-29 shooting from the floor, good for a 59% clip, and going 5-11 from beyond the three-point arc.
Gottfried’s Wolfpack grappled with their tactics for defending the newly-crowned ACC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, Jahlil Okafor.
“It’s kind of a pick your poison with [Okafor],” Gottfried said. “You can play him one on one in the post and latch on to shooters … we doubled down on him a couple times and he got the ball out of the double teams. [But Duke] made pretty much every shot.”
Cat Barber, who had 21 points against Pitt on Wednesday, went scoreless against the stellar defense of Duke guards Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. Barber left the game early in the second half and did not return after getting leveled by an Amile Jefferson screen in the backcourt. Head coach Mark Gottfried said Barber’s status is uncertain.
Mike Krzyzewski, regardless of his team’s beat down of the ‘Pack, had high praise for Mark Gottfried and his players after the game.
“I’m surprised that we won the way we did because, I think, State can beat anybody,” he said.
Both NC State and Duke have more-than-solid chances to receive at-large bids for next week’s NCAA Tournament, but NC State still faces the possibility getting snubbed.
“I’m not on the committee, but I think we’ve certainly earned the right to be in the tournament,” Gottfried said of this Sunday’s upcoming selection process. “I think we’ve proven that we’re one of the teams in the at-large pool that needs to play … but we’ll see.”
As for Duke, they will move on to the semifinal round of the ACC Tournament to play the winner of Notre Dame-Miami (FL), who play in the last quarterfinal match up of the day.
Krzyzewski admitted that either team would be a “tough assignment.”
Duke’s semifinal game will tipoff at 9 PM on Friday night inside the Greensboro Coliseum.