Mike Krzyzewski was back on the bench on Saturday and Duke was back to business-as-usual against N.C. State at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Freshman guard Luke Kennard made six 3-pointers and scored 26 points to help mark Krzyzewski’s return with an 88-80 home win over the Wolfpack.
One game away, with a sudden illness, was enough for the Duke hall-of-fame coach, who led the Blue Devils (17-6, 6-4 ACC) to their 17th straight and 23rd win in 24 home games against N.C. State (12-12, 2-9).
“He was back to normal,” Duke guard Matt Jones said. “He was as passionate as ever. He wanted to win, and he was a competitor like always.”
Krzyzewski, who turns 69 next week, checked into the hospital on Tuesday and missed Duke’s 80-71 win at Georgia Tech. He met with his players the next day and told them what had happened.
“I asked them, ‘Is it alright to be here?’ ” Krzyzewski said. “They said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, that’s smart of you because I still control playing time.”
Krzyzewski was in a mood for jokes after Duke held off the Wolfpack, which featured another outstanding performance by junior guard Cat Barber (26 points).
Barber didn’t score in the first 14 minutes while Duke used a double-team and sometimes triple-team to keep him away from the basket.
The Wolfpack junior made up for the slow start with 26 points on an 8-of-14 shooting effort plus six assists in 39-plus minutes.
“He’s the toughest out in the league,” Krzyzewski said.
Barber got some help from forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds, but Duke just had more options.
Kennard shook off a recent shooting slump to go 6 of 11 from 3-point range and tear up N.C. State’s zone.
Sophomore guard Grayson Allen led Duke with 28 points. His contributions were expected. After Brandon Ingram scored 25 points in the first meeting in Raleigh two weeks ago, he finished with 14 and was mired in foul trouble.
“We slowed down Brandon, but Kennard stepped up,” Abu said.
N.C. State scrapped back from double digits in the first half to tie the game at 52 on a dunk by Abu after a feed from Barber at 15:38 in the second half.
Then Allen hit a 3 and Kennard scored 10 points during a 15 to 2 Duke run to take control of the game.
Duke’s second-half lead ballooned to 13 points, but the Wolfpack, as it has done all season, scrapped and clawed and refused to go away.
“They couldn’t really throw the knockout punch on us,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “They tried but our guys just kept battling back.”
With Barber wheeling and dealing, N.C. State got as close as three points, 77-76, with 3:40 left. Ingram had the answer this time when he was fouled on a 3-point shot.
Ingram made the first two free throws and then missed the third but was able to tap the loose ball out to Kennard. The possession ended with Allen catching the ball in front of N.C. State’s bench, gathering his feet and then burying a 3-pointer.
For N.C. State, it’s another hard-fought effort in a season of them that have come up short. Gottfried was preaching patience and trust with his team.
“We have to keep maintaining, and good things are going to happen for our team,” Gottfried said.
For Krzyzewski, the view from the Duke bench was much better than the one from hospital on Tuesday. And the win sets the Blue Devils into their toughest four-game stretch of the season on a positive note.
“We’re not this powerhouse, but our guys are doing a good job,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re doing a really good job. We just have to keep fighting every game and just trying to keep getting better and hopefully stay healthy.”