RALEIGH — When looking at this years Duke team, most scouts and writers have raved about power forward Mason Plumlee, a national Player of the Year candidate.
Plumlee leads Duke in scoring, but the top-ranked Blue Devils have relied just as much on an old friend, the 3-pointer.
Duke leads the ACC with 117 3-pointers, and its making a staggering 42.7 percent of its attempts. The Blue Devils made 11 3s against Wake Forest including six during a 25-7 first-half run and shot 8 of 15 against Clemson on Tuesday night.
When asked about defending Dukes outside shooters during Saturdays showdown, N.C. State senior Richard Howell said the challenge starts with limiting Quinn Cooks drive-and-kick assists to his wing players.
We have to keep their guards out of the paint, Howell said. Quinn Cook is one of the best when he gets in the paint at finding guys. Every time I look up he has 12 or 15 assists, and thats something we cant let happen.
I feel like if he gets 12 or 15 assists that means everyone else gets 10 or 12 points. Thats something that we cant have.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried knows all too well what can happen when his team doesnt defend the perimeter against Duke.
Last year, the Pack led No. 5 Duke by 20 with 11:30 remaining at Cameron Indoor Stadium before Seth Curry took over. Curry scored 21 of his season-high 26 points in the second half to stun the Pack.
Obviously, when you play Duke, we learned it last year in those last eight to 10 minutes that their perimeter guys can take over, Gottfried said. They made tough shots against us last year. We get it, theyre really good. So weve got to be ready.
This Saturday, the Pack might have caught a break. Ryan Kelly, a 52.1 percent 3-point shooter, wont play because of a foot injury. Kellys likely replacements arent 3-point shooters, so State can focus its perimeter defense on just the guards on the wing, rather than worrying about a 6-foot-11 center stepping outside.
As Clemson coach Brad Brownell said after Tuesdays game, even without Kelly, theres still plenty to worry about.
Four Blue Devils have made at least 15 3s this season, led by Currys 31.
Quinn Cook (22) and Rasheed Sulaimon (21) are new pieces to the Devils puzzle this year against the Pack, along with backup point guard Tyler Thornton, who has hit 15 3-pointers.
For the Packs Scott Wood, who leads all ACC players with 269 career 3s, he knows from experience what hell be looking for against Duke.
Its going to be big, Wood said. I think we need to focus on just keeping your man in front of you so they cant penetrate and kick, because thats what they want to do. Theyve got a bunch of good players and a bunch of good shooters, so we know were going to have to get in our stance and play good defense.
Howell said the perimeter defense lately has been a key to the Packs nine-game winning streak heading into Saturdays contest. States opponents are making just 29.7 percent of their 3-pointers. Though he doesnt figure to be defending anyone out on the wing much during the game, Howell believes the team has changed since the beginning of the season.
Coach Gottfried always wants us to be a defensive-minded team first, Howell said. Weve started taking a lot more pride in our defense.
We can score with anybody, but stopping teams can win us a championship, and we know we have to do that to get to the next level.