N.C. State dropped another ACC basketball game, but Cat Barber picked up another admirer. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was effusive in his praise of the Wolfpack junior after the Blue Devils’ 88-80 win on Saturday.
Krzyzewski called Barber, who finished with 26 points and six assists, the “toughest out” in the ACC and even made a case for Barber for postseason honors.
“I mean, that kid is really good,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not N.C. State sports promotions here but don’t judge just how good a guy is by the record of his team.”
The knock on Barber’s potential to win the ACC player of the year award has been N.C. State’s 2-9 ACC record. Barber leads the ACC in scoring (23.4 points per game) and leads the Wolfpack in assists (4.6).
The junior point guard has put up big numbers while playing an incredible amount of minutes (38.7 per game), and his shooting numbers have gotten better as the season has gone along.
Barber was 8-of-14 from the floor on Saturday, the fourth time in five ACC games he has shot better than 50 percent.
Duke’s entire defense, with sometimes as many as three players assigned to him, was geared to stop Barber. The Wolfpack junior didn’t score in the game’s first 14 minutes. He had two turnovers and two fouls until he made his first field goal at 5:36 in the first half.
“I felt like I wasn’t going to score,” Barber said of the slow start. “I was like, ‘This is tough right now.’ ”
Barber was able to make three of his last four shots of the half and score nine points before the break.
N.C. State trailed 41-35 at the half. He was able to help the Wolfpack tie the score at 52 with some drives to the basket and drop-off passes to forward Abdul-Malik Abu as the Duke defense collapsed on Barber.
“You could see everyone just swarming on him,” said Abu, who finished with 16 points. “You have to focus on him, and it opens it up for everyone else.”
Krzyzewski noted Barber’s value is beyond scoring and passing.
“He’s responsible for a lot of points for that basketball team,” Krzyzewski said. “You can figure it out mathematically but also in spacing.”
Barber did land awkwardly on his right wrist with 1:22 left in the game. He braced for a fall after fouling Duke’s Grayson Allen.
“I fell, and it bent,” Barber said. “I mess this wrist up a lot. It should be good.”
Barber had ice on his wrist when he talked with the media after the game.
“I think I’m going to be all right,” Barber said. “It’s just a little bump. I’ll ice it, and we’ll see what happens.”
While Barber tended to his ice pack, Krzyzewski was busy complimenting the point guard’s play this season. Seven of N.C. State’s nine ACC losses are by single digits. Even with Duke scheming to stop him, the best the Devils could do was hold him to 26 points.
“They’re close to winning five more (ACC) games,” Krzyzewski said. “He gives them a chance to win every game. … He’s very good.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio