Duke, N.C. State have traded places since first encounter

lkeeley@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2013 

— Momentum is certainly great and advantageous, but it can all vanish in a second.

Or, in N.C. State’s case, in 0.8 seconds.

The Wolfpack (16-6, 5-4 ACC) had a one-point lead against Miami on Saturday until Reggie Johnson tipped in a rebound with 0.8 seconds remaining to give the Hurricanes the victory. And, instead overcoming point guard Lorenzo Brown’s left ankle injury and beating first-place Miami, N.C. State left the floor with a two-game losing streak and four ACC losses by a combined seven points.

“It’s interesting, sometimes, with just a tip with 1 second left, how the feeling of everything can change,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Obviously if they don’t get the tip in, we’re walking around here with our chests poked out, we’re excited, and we see things differently.”

Earlier Saturday, the No. 4 Blue Devils (19-2, 6-2) continued to make progress in their reinvention project, necessitated by Ryan Kelly’s right foot injury on Jan. 8 against Clemson.

In a 79-60 win at Florida State, Duke shot a season-high 60.8 percent, ran out to an 18-2 lead and never let up. It was Duke’s third straight win, and it was also the third consecutive game the Blue Devils had shot above 50 percent, putting the 90-63 blowout at Miami, in which Duke shot a season-low 29.7 percent from the field, further in the past.

While the loss at Miami was the lowest point in this stretch without Kelly, the first game against N.C. State was the beginning of it. Duke didn’t play poorly in that 84-76 loss at PNC Arena, but the Blue Devils did miss Kelly, especially on defense. Since then, though, Amile Jefferson’s game has grown with experience, and the coaches have installed new offensive sets featuring Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. As a result, the Blue Devils feel like they’re a different team. A better one too.

“After the Miami game, we started to hit our stride as a group,” Plumlee said. “We’re comfortable in our roles with Ryan being out. We’re playing differently, and we’ve accepted that that’s how we have to play.”

The Wolfpack also look different since that Jan. 12 matchup. At the time, the win moved N.C. State to 3-0 in the conference. Since then, the Wolfpack are 2-4 and in the middle of the ACC standings.

There’s a chance N.C. State could be without Brown for Thursday’s game at Duke. Gottfried told reporters Tuesday morning that Brown had yet to practice since injuring his ankle Jan. 29 at Virginia and would need to make significant strides to be ready.

“I think he’s still a few days away,” Gottfried said. “We’ll just have to wait and see day by day.”

The Blue Devils are preparing for Brown to play – when asked what impact Brown’s uncertain status had on Duke’s preparation, point guard Quinn Cook said, “none.”

As Duke knows all too well, it takes time to adjust to the loss of a key player. It took the Blue Devils four games, capped by the embarrassing Miami loss. Now that they have, though, they’re clearly better than they were when Kelly was first injured.

“They’ve learned some things,” Gottfried said of Duke. “Obviously we’re going to look at some film and see some things that we going to continue to do, but, at the same time, they’re still a different team, and we’ve got to go in with the mindset that they’re going to be better.”

Instead of scrambling for answers, Duke enters this Thursday’s game with the confidence that a three-game winning streak brings. But, as the Wolfpack can attest, all of that positive momentum can vanish in less than a second.

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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