Trevor Lacey lingered on the court with N.C. State students and fans long after the Wolfpack’s upset win over No. 2 Duke on Sunday afternoon.
The Wolfpack’s star player posed for “selfie” pictures with the mob of jubilant fans who stormed the court after N.C. State’s third win over a top-10 Duke team in the past four meetings at PNC Arena.
Lacey, who led the Wolfpack with 21 points in the 87-75 win, decided to celebrate and enjoy the moment.
“Why not?” Lacey asked.
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“Without the crowd, without those guys out there, we wouldn’t have been able to go on those runs, defend and play as hard as we did without them and their energy.”
Sunday was the time to celebrate and enjoy a win that improved N.C. State (12-5) to 3-1 in the ACC and put a marquee win on the Wolfpack’s NCAA tournament resume.
Monday was the time to get back to work and prepare for North Carolina (12-4, 2-1), which will visit Raleigh on Wednesday night.
“Obviously, when you win, especially against a good opponent like Duke, you feel good,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “The tough thing in this conference, you better not celebrate very long. We’ve got to get ourselves refocused on North Carolina, which we will do.”
One of Gottfried’s strengths has been getting his team’s attention after a loss. This season has been no exception. N.C. State is 5-0 after a loss, with the Duke upset coming after a 61-51 loss at Virginia last Wednesday.
Since a 76-60 whitewash to Cincinnati at PNC Arena on Dec. 30, N.C. State has strung together three of its best games of the season – home wins over Pittsburgh and Duke sandwiched around a game effort at Virginia, which has won 19 straight ACC homes games.
Recovering from big wins, over either Duke or UNC, has been more difficult for the Wolfpack. N.C. State beat Duke at home in Gottfried’s second season in 2012-13 and lost the next game at Maryland. The same season, the Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels at home and lost at Virginia in the next game.
Since the 1994-95 season, N.C. State has a 1-14 record in the next ACC game after a win over Duke or UNC.
The only win came when the Wolfpack beat the Blue Devils and Tar Heels in back-to-back games in the 2002-03 season.
There’s little value in looking in the past, Gottfried believes, even to a game like the one with UNC last season at PNC Arena, which Gottfried called a “phenomenal college basketball game.”
“This is a different team, they have a different team,” Gottfried said.
But there is something to learning from past mistakes. N.C. State had a six-point lead over the Tar Heels in overtime last season but lost 85-84 on a last-second shot by UNC guard Marcus Paige.
The Wolfpack also struggled in ACC road losses to Wake Forest and Syracuse last season, plus an NCAA tournament loss to Saint Louis.
Closing out games has been a point of emphasis this season and one that showed on Sunday after the Wolfpack let a 19-point lead against Duke shrink to seven with 1:37 left in the game.
But unlike in key losses last season, or even in close wins this season over South Florida and Boise State, N.C. State made its free throws in the final minutes.
After Duke cut the Wolfpack’s lead to 76-69 on Sunday, N.C. State made its next six free throws and seven of its final eight to close out the game.
N.C. State senior Ralston Turner, who made a pair of free throws with 63 seconds left, said that’s where the experience of this team shows.
“We’ve been there before,” Turner said. “A lot of our guys were here last year; this isn’t our first rodeo.”
That kind of experience, especially the winning variety this season, will serve N.C. State well as the schedule hits a road-heavy turn after the UNC game on Wednesday.