DURHAM — N.C. State squandered a 20-point lead at Duke last season, a loss its veteran players said helped them grow up.
The Wolfpack will have to learn from Thursdays 98-85 loss at Duke from a new perspective. N.C. State never led during the game and trailed by as many as 22 points.
N.C. State got as close as nine points in the second half, a moral victory of sorts, which at least senior Richard Howell was willing to claim.
We definitely fought back and never hung our heads, said Howell, who led N.C. State with 23 points.
N.C. State (16-7, 5-5 ACC) played its second straight game without point guard Lorenzo Brown and lost its second straight game, and fourth in a row on the road in ACC play. The Wolfpacks problems were not on offense.
Without Brown, who turned his left ankle in a loss at Virginia on Jan. 29, freshman Tyler Lewis made his first career start and finished with 13 points and six assists. Forward C.J. Leslie added 16 points before he fouled out in the final 90 seconds.
It was on defense where N.C. State struggled, giving up 50 points in a half for the third time in ACC play. Duke rolled up 58 points in the first half with 10 3-pointers four more than it had in the first game against N.C. State in Raleigh on Jan. 12.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried was also impressed with his teams fight in the second half, albeit countered by the disappointment of the effort in the first half.
When you lose, you never really feel good, Gottfried said. Our guys battled hard, they played extremely hard, they never quit.
While Gottfried praised his teams effort in the post-game press conference, there was a challenge to his players in the locker room at the half, senior Scott Wood said.
I dont think we matched their intensity at the beginning of the game, Wood said. They knocked down a lot of shots, some were tough and some we just let them have easy ones.
Howell said N.C. State made it too easy for Duke in the first half, as it fell behind 58-37 at the break.
From my perspective, Duke just wanted to do whatever they wanted to do, Howell said. They had it their way the whole first half.
Howell said Gottfrieds message came across pretty clear at the half.
We took it as a challenge to play harder and tougher and not get pushed around, Howell said.
Howell led a second-half surge, his five straight points cutting Dukes lead to single digits at 84-75 with 4:34 to play. Quinn Cook responded with a pull-up jumper for Duke and then Howell fouled out with an offensive foul at 3:41. Howell stepped out and swung the ball in front of Mason Plumlees face and caught Plumlee with an elbow.
The foul was ruled flagrant and Plumlee made both of his free throws. Duke never looked back. State outscored the Blue Devils 48-40 in the second half but the damage was already done.
We tried to dig ourselves out of it but once you get down by that much, its kind of hard to come back, Lewis said.