N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried doesn’t want Cat Barber to do everything but he’s still the most important player in the Wolfpack lineup.
That was obvious in the second half of Saturday’s 88-78 loss to Duke when Barber, the ACC’s leading scorer, tweaked his left knee.
Barber collided with Duke’s Brandon Ingram and came up limping with 14:12 left in the second half. Up to that point, Barber had 19 points and N.C. State had a 54-52 lead.
“From that point forward in the game, we were a different team,” Gottfried said.
On the next possession after Barber was noticeably favoring his left leg, N.C. State got a layup from BeeJay Anya to go up 56-52.
Then Duke scored the game’s next 14 points. Barber only briefly came off the floor with 28 seconds left but was clearly not at 100 percent.
Barber only took two more shots the rest of the game, missing both, and N.C. State’s offense faltered.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Barber one of the “best players in the country,” and said the defensive game plan — with switching zones and three-quarter court pressure — was designed to slow Barber.
“You can’t guard him one-on-one, he’s too good,” Krzyzewski said. “You have to play him where he’s not shooting.”
Between Duke’s defense and Barber’s injury, N.C. State’s offense couldn’t keep up its pace from the first 26 minutes of the game.
The Wolfpack started 23 of 40 from the floor and Barber was 8 of 12. In the last 14 minutes, N.C. State went 8 of 20.
On the other end, N.C. State had no answer for Duke. The Wolfpack tried to use a zone but could not slow either Ingram (25 points) or Grayson Allen (28).
The key 5-minute stretch for Duke was after Anya’s layup made it 56-52. Duke went on to score on its next six possessions, including a pair of key 3s by Matt Jones, and N.C. State came up empty on seven straight possessions.
N.C. State has played better recently with more balance on offense and more help for Barber, the ACC’s leading scorer.
The Wolfpack finished Saturday’s game with five players in double figures. Cody Martin, making his third straight start, has helped alleviate some of the pressure on Barber.
Martin had four assists, to go with 13 points, against Duke. Caleb Martin has also been better coming off the bench. He shot 50 percent from the floor (5 of 10) for the second time in three games.
“We’re getting better,” Gottfried said. “We’re doing things a lot better, moving the ball much better. We’re getting better shots and shooting better percentages. We just have to keep working.”
And find a way to keep Barber healthy.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio