It has been years – decades – since N.C. State last beat a Duke team coached my Mike Krzyzewski in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
There isn’t a player on either team who was even close to being born. Some weren’t born in 1995, when Krzyzewski stepped aside for Pete Gaudet and N.C. State was one of six ACC teams to beat Duke in Cameron.
“Wow,” Duke guard Quinn Cook said. “We would definitely like to continue that streak.”
The Wolfpack appears to have two of the ingredients needed to upset Duke this season: A perimeter penetration threat and inside scoring. That formula worked for Notre Dame and it worked for Clemson, although both games were on the road. (Duke’s two other losses, to Kansas and Arizona, were on more even terms.)
For the Irish, that was Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman (14 points) on the inside and Eric Atkins (19 points, 11 assists) on the outside. For the Tigers, it was K.J. McDaniels (24 points) on the inside and Rod Hall (11 points, four assists) on the outside.
N.C. State’s two best players just happen to be 6-foot-8 forward T.J. Warren, who leads the ACC at 22.2 points per game, and speedy freshman point guard Cat Barber, who excels at blowing past defenders and getting to the rim.
“Our big guys, our inside guys, we need to go to them more,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
This may not be the best N.C. State team in recent years – the Wolfpack knocked off No. 1 Duke at PNC Arena last January and blew a 20-point lead in Cameron in 2012 – but it may have the best combination of strengths arrayed against Duke’s biggest weaknesses in a long time.
The Wolfpack goes 6-8, 6-9, 7-2 across the front line and is outrebounding ACC opponents, which could pose problems for a Duke team that has been outrebounded in three of four ACC games, although Duke star freshman forward Jabari Parker isn’t worried.
“We look at their roster, we don’t really see a big impact,” Parker said. “More importantly, (our) bigs just need to show up, prove that we’re just as good. I really don’t see anything, really. For us to show up is more important.”
Still, it’ll take more than matchups for N.C. State to beat Duke. If the Blue Devils play the way they’re capable of playing, they shouldn’t have an issue with the Wolfpack on their home floor. Period. But Duke hasn’t always played the way Duke is capable of playing this season, which is why the Blue Devils are 2-2 in the ACC.
“We’re 2-2 in conference, and that’s mediocre,” Cook said. “We’re a program that’s not built on mediocrity.”
As for the Wolfpack, it’s coming off a blowout home loss to Virginia and a one-point road loss at Wake Forest, sitting at 1-3 in the ACC. But N.C. State won at Notre Dame, which Duke wasn’t able to do, and if the ACC has been anything this season, it has been unpredictable.
“Obviously Duke is a tough place to play,” Gottfried said. “There’s great history with Cameron Indoor. We just need to make sure we’re at our best, but we need to do that every night. We need to do that at home. These guys will be excited about playing at Cameron. They’ll be fired up.”
It has already been a tough season for long Duke streaks. The 122-week stretch in the AP top 10 came to an end this month. Saturday, the Wolfpack has a real chance to end a long streak of its own.