DURHAM — Up by 20 points midway through the second half, N.C. State knew Duke would make a run.
The Wolfpack just didn't know it would end with a 78-73 heartbreaking loss to the Blue Devils.
N.C. State jumped out to a 46-30 lead at the half and extended it to 61-41 with 11 minutes, 33 seconds left. But the Wolfpack couldn't sustain its start and couldn't hold off Duke guard Seth Curry, who scored 16 of his game-high 26 points after N.C. State led 61-41.
"We knew they would make a run," N.C. State guard Scott Wood said. "We were ready for it but you have to give them credit, they made some tough shots."
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried commended his team's aggression in the first 30 minutes but lamented its foul trouble - three starters fouled out - and the effect the missing players had at the end of the game.
Forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell fouled out while Duke was making its 37-12 game-closing run. Senior guard C.J. Williams, who was limited to 12 minutes because of early fouls, joined the forwards on the bench with 2.2 seconds left - after Lorenzo Brown missed a game-tying 3-pointer from the left corner.
"We have to defend better without fouling," Gottfried said. "It affected every part of the game for us."
The game ended with N.C. State's 14th straight loss in Durham but it could not have started better.
The Wolfpack's defense held Duke to 2 of 13 in the first half from the 3-point line, with the Devils missing their first nine 3s.
Curry had just five points in the first half and was hobbled by an injured left ankle.
The Wolfpack was hot from 3, getting a lift from guard Alex Johnson, who hit his first three 3s and finished with a season-best 11 points - all in the first half.
Johnson entered the game 4 for 21 from the 3-point line in ACC play but Williams was on the bench, after two fouls in the first 90 seconds.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Wolfpack was "great" in the first half.
"They thoroughly outplayed us for 29 minutes and then we thoroughly outplayed them for the last 11," Krzyzewski said. "Really it was one of the more amazing games I've been a part of."
Duke used a full-court press to disrupt N.C. State's rhythm on offense and then got Curry and Austin Rivers (16 points) going.
Leslie had six blocks but was on the bench for the bulk of Duke's run with foul trouble.
Gottfried used three timeouts to try to stem Duke's tide but the Wolfpack couldn't generate enough points, outside of Brown's 19. Not with Leslie (12 points) on the bench and Wood in a shooting funk (1 of 7).
"We're a good team," Gottfried said. "We have to find a way to be a little bit better."