RALEIGH — Good basketball teams don't make a habit of repeating the same mistakes, which is one of many differences between Duke and N.C. State these days.
A year ago almost to the day, Duke was handed a stunning 88-74 loss from the Wolfpack in the RBC Center.
Duke forward Mason Plumlee has no difficulty recalling that experience.
"What I remember most is we didn't play with any intensity," Plumlee said recently.
"If you play that way, you get worked over. That's what Tracy Smith and those guys did to us the whole game, too."
The Blue Devils didn't bring the same effort to the same building against the same opponent on Wednesday.
Barely five minutes into the contest, the Blue Devils (17-1 overall, 4-1 ACC) had the Wolfpack, and the crowd of 19,387, under thumb en route to a 92-78 win.
State (11-7, 1-3) contributed heavily to the outcome by yet again failing to compete early.
Down 42-28 by halftime, the opening 20 minutes were similar to State's start Saturday at Florida State and in a Jan. 11 loss at Boston College.
An old coaching adage is that the first half is rarely decisive in conference games.
The Wolfpack is doing its best to prove that thinking wrong.
In its three league losses thus far, Sidney Lowe's team is averaging 26 first-half points. Only after extending a 40-30 intermission lead into a 90-69 win over Wake Forest on Jan. 8 has that pattern not held.
With reserve playmaker Ryan Harrow making an offensive impact, there was a second-half offensive surge against Duke, just as there was at Florida State, when the Seminoles led 28-19 at the break.
But State doesn't have the expertise and defense to escape such deep holes against good teams.
Until those flat starts stop, there's no gripping reason to believe this season can be salvaged.
"Maybe we're not coming out ready, but that's just an excuse," State's Scott Wood said. "A big part of it is missing too many shots we should be able to make. The first five minutes of each half, to me, are the most important parts of the game."
Smith pointed directly to defense.
"Defense has to carry us," he said. "We've got to get to the point that we're winning the defensive battle early in games."
Whatever the problem, Lowe and his players need to find a solution. Pronto.
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