Brandon Ingram was in the building when N.C. State beat Duke last year. The then high school senior was on his official visit to N.C. State, and he saw the Wolfpack deal the eventual national champions their first loss of the season in 87-75 fashion.
The Wolfpack recruited Ingram hard. Mark Gottfried and his staff knew it wasn’t a good sign when Ingram didn’t commit that weekend.
Ingram said Saturday, after scoring 25 points in Duke’s 88-78 win over the Wolfpack, that even after that weekend he was still undecided. And Ingram considered N.C. State right up until he made his final decision to come to Duke in April.
“I just know that Duke went down, of course, and I didn’t want that to happen again,” Ingram said of his memories from last year’s visit. “Of course we came here with the three-game losing streak and wanted to win this game. There was no other option.”
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Ingram’s length at the top of Duke’s 2-3 zone cut down on N.C. State’s passing lanes, as he recorded a block and two steals. And he led the way for Duke’s lights-out second half offensively, scoring 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. He went 3-for-4 from deep, too.
Ingram also grabbed seven rebounds (one offensive and six defensive), tied for second-most on the team. The Blue Devils’ ability to cut down on second opportunities from offensive rebounds for the Wolfpack was a major improvement from losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse earlier this month.
As Gottfried watched Ingram from his sideline, he wasn’t surprised. Not at all. When asked if he thought during Ingram’s recruitment that Ingram would be this type of player, Gottfried didn’t hesitate.
“Yep, absolutely without a doubt,” Gottfried said. “Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen, we recruited both of them. And they were just terrific today. You have to give those two guys credit. They are both going to have great futures.
“We’ve played against Ben Simmons this year from LSU, we played against Brandon Ingram, and wouldn’t be surprised to see his name called first this year. He’s that good. And he was good today, especially in the second half.”
That’s high praise for the skinny kid from Kinston who has come into his own since December. Factoring out Duke’s first five games, he entered Saturday averaging 18.8 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor.
In the Blue Devils’ past three losses, slow starts to the second half led to defeat. Avoiding that was a point of emphasis even before Duke trailed 43-36 at halftime.
“We know that every time we come out in the second half, we come out flat,” Ingram said. “So we knew that we didn’t want to come out flat, knock some shots down, stay aggressive and get after it on defense.”
Ingram opened up the second half with a 3. A few possessions later, he drew two fouls on N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu, the second before the ball came in on an inbounds play. So after picking up fouls No. 2 and 3 in a span of zero seconds, Abu was forced to the bench.
“He’s a great player,” Abu said of Ingram. “He knocked some tough shots down and he finished around the rim. He played really well.”
Ingram also knocked down a 3 through contact to tie the game at 47-47 (he missed the free throw for the four-point play opportunity). And he also started Duke’s critical 14-0 run by following his own miss for an easy lay-in.
As a team, Duke shot 70.8 percent from the floor in the second half (17-for-24 from the field and 7-of-11 from 3-point range). That’s going to win a lot of basketball games.
“At the start of the second half, we played some lights-out offensive basketball and really good defense,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Huge win for us.”
The Blue Devils knew they needed this game, which ended the program’s first three-game losing streak in nine years (the end of the 2006-07 season).
“We had to win this game,” Ingram said. “There was no other option.”