It had been 22 years since N.C. State last won at venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium.
On Monday night, the Wolfpack put together such a stunning rally late behind freshman star Dennis Smith that it just may have made all that heartache worthwhile.
After trailing by 12 points in the first half and nine points with a little less than seven minutes to play, N.C. State scored 20 of the game’s next 25 points then held on to stun No. 17 Duke 84-82.
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Smith scored 32 points, including eight points during a 10-0 N.C. State run that put the Wolfpack into the lead late.
He made four 3-pointers with the biggest his shot from in front of the N.C. State bench with 3:09 to play that gave the Wolfpack a 72-70 lead.
When Duke’s Luke Kennard answered with a 3-pointer of his own to give Duke its final lead at 73-72 with 2:45 left, it was Smith who passed the ball under the basket to Abdul-Malik Abu for a dunk that put N.C. State (14-7, 3-5 ACC) ahead for good 74-73 at 2:37.
“Dennis was tremendous all game long,” Duke acting head coach Jeff Capel said. “He’s a very talented kid, and played lights-out basketball tonight. Did it in every phase – scored – but in the second half he really got his guys involved.”
Smith got his points in spurts – very important, well-timed spurts.
Duke led by 12 points with 36 seconds left in the first half before Smith scored six points on two N.C. State possessions to leave the Wolfpack down 44-38.
With Smith having scored 18 points in the first half, Duke slowed him for most of the second half. But his finishing flourish left a mark the Blue Devils won’t shake off for quite some time.
“It was a great feeling,” Smith said. “We were just excited to get a win. Being at Cameron is even more exciting. We only play them one time this year so it was a statement win for us.”
Abu hurt Duke (15-5, 3-4) inside with 19 points and nine rebounds while Ted Kapita, who hadn’t played in N.C. State’s two games last week, added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“There’s an old saying, ‘have a hunch bet a bunch’,” Gottfried said. “And I just had a hunch. He needs to play. He’s done a good job. Missed a lot of games early, and he’s kind of been behind, but I felt like he deserved a chance. So I made the decision to bring him off the bench first.
“I thought he came in and gave us a great lift, played really well in just about every phase of the game.”
Duke lost for the third time in its last four games and suffered its first home loss of the season. All four of those games have come without head coach Mike Krzyzewski on the bench,
Krzyzewski is recovering from a Jan. 6 back surgery, leaving Capel to run the team in his absence.
Krzyzewski wasn’t on the bench the last time N.C. State beat Duke in Cameron on Jan. 18, 1995, as he was also recovering from back surgery and related issues that season.
On Monday night, Capel lamented the Blue Devils shooting just 38.6 percent in the second half (and 46 percent for the game) while also failing to play tight enough defense on Smith and the Wolfpack.
“It’s very disappointing for us,” Capel said. “We had some opportunities there, but we didn’t capitalize on them. Couldn’t make a shot in the second half. Got some good looks, we have to finish those. And then down the stretch we couldn’t come up with the stop. So again, give them credit, they were terrific. And we have to keep working to get better.”
N.C. State shot 55 percent in the second half and 50.9 percent for the game while turning the ball over just 10 times.
The Blue Devils know they need to clean up that defense if they want to be the national championship contender they expect to be.
“It started with me,” Matt Jones said. “I didn’t do a good job playing defense, and I think that carried over to everyone. I take all responsibility for it.”