Mark Gottfried couldn’t remember the first win of his coaching career. The N.C. State coach won’t forget his 400th any time soon.
“I’ll remember this one,” Gottfried said after the Wolfpack ended a 17-game losing streak at Duke on Monday night.
Gottfried walked off the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium after N.C. State’s 84-82 win and gave junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu a hug. Then he corralled freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. around the scruff and hugged him. By the time he got to the steps of the visiting locker room at Cameron Indoor Stadium his dad, Joe, was waiting for him there and old Pops got a hug, too.
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There was plenty to celebrate for N.C. State (14-7, 3-5 ACC) and plenty to remember for Gottfried, particularly from Smith, who finished with 32 points, six assists and a key steal on Duke’s final possession to give the Wolfpack its first win in Durham since 1995.
“His day was just off the charts,” Gottfried said of Smith.
As was N.C. State’s turnaround from its last Triangle road game. The Wolfpack lost by 51 points at North Carolina on Jan 8. Completely embarrassed from that effort, some of Monday’s surprise win was rooted in that painful loss.
“Our team has taken some lumps, we know it and we’re frustrated and Dennis feels that, too,” Gottfried said. “Dennis is such a fierce competitor, I think it hurt him what happened in Chapel Hill.”
Smith canceled any repeat performance from Chapel Hill. He had 18 points in the first half and then 14, with all six assists, in the second half.
Each time Duke threatened to break the game open, Smith was there with a big play. With the spotlight on Duke’s future one-and-done lottery picks Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, and the sideshow of Grayson Allen, Smith upstaged them all.
Abu, who had 19 points and nine rebounds, likes to call Smith “the chosen one,” a nickname normally reserved for LeBron James.
“He went out there and he was unstoppable,” Abu said of Smith. “He made everybody better and that’s what he’s capable of every night. I’m glad you got to see it on a national stage.”
Smith has been good this season, leading the Wolfpack in scoring and the ACC in both assists and steals, but the Fayetteville product has never been this assertive or in command of a game, certainly not against a team of Duke’s caliber.
Smith was more interested in what the win meant for the team than what it did for his draft stock.
“We’re better than what a lot of people think,” Smith said. “A lot of people got down on us with a couple of losses. We never got down on each other, though. We always believed in each other. We believe we can do great things this year.”
And that’s what Gottfried is hoping this win can do, give the team a spark. Two years ago, N.C. State went to Louisville with a 5-7 ACC record and found a way to knock off the Cardinals on the road. The Wolfpack won four of its final five ACC games to get into the NCAA tournament and then knocked off LSU and Villanova to reach the Sweet 16.
“This game gives us great confidence now,” Gottfried said. “We have the belief we can do something good.”
Murray State beat Berry College, 108-62 for Gottfried’s first win, by the way. That was Nov. 25, 1995. N.C. State’s last win at Duke before Monday was that same year in January.
Who knows what this game will mean in a few days or a few weeks or next month but Gottfried’s right, he’s going to remember win No. 400.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio