Duke’s domination of N.C. State was so complete, the Wolfpack so baffled by the Blue Devils’ swarming matchup zone, that Trevor Lacey had to admit some measure of defeat long before the game was over.
Duke’s Justise Winslow came up to Lacey on the court while the Blue Devils were busy compiling a 27-point halftime lead to make a salient point.
“Winslow said, ‘You weren’t prepared for this,’ ” Lacey said afterward. “I was like, ‘What are y’all doing?’ I just started laughing.”
It was either that or cry.
The most anticipated game of the ACC tournament (so far) turned out to be the least dramatic of the ACC tournament (so far). Duke and N.C. State stirred up the ghosts of tournaments past with an evening meeting at the Greensboro Coliseum, then conjured up more recent history to send everyone to bed early with a comprehensive 77-53 win.
Just as Duke exacted its revenge on Notre Dame (for beating it) and Wake Forest (for just coming close) with call-off-the-dogs first-half blowouts, the Blue Devils used January’s loss to the Wolfpack as fuel for a complete and utter destruction given a second chance.
“If you asked anybody on our team, they would tell you they knew they’d be ready for us,” N.C. State’s Ralston Turner said. “If they would have beaten us, we’d be ready for them. That’s just how it goes.”
But still …
“The first half, it was way beyond our expectations,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
N.C. State, meanwhile, will be more concerned about Cat Barber’s health than the circumstances of Thursday’s loss. Barber ran into an Amile Jefferson screen and crumpled to the court with what certainly appeared to be a concussion.
It was already a tough night for Barber, who followed Wednesday’s 34-point outburst with a disappointingly anonymous showing Thursday even before he was injured, thanks to a Duke defense devoted to keeping the ball away from him and Lacey.
Any tournament success the Wolfpack might have will require more of a contribution from Barber, whose emergence was key to N.C. State’s late-season success, but even a sub-par Barber is better than no Barber at all.
While N.C. State’s best players were taken away, Duke didn’t even need its best players. Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones and Winslow and Quinn Cook are one thing. When Grayson Allen and Marshall Plumlee are scoring at will, how does Kentucky prepare for that? How does anyone?
Plumlee had six – six! – dunks and a career-high 12 points, and Allen added 11, two of the six Duke players in double figures.
Meanwhile, Plumlee played more minutes (20) than Okafor (19), which couldn’t have gone any better for Duke if it’s going to win three games in three days.
This wasn’t the Wolfpack’s proudest moment, but Barber aside, the loss won’t hurt N.C. State either, not in any significant way. The disappointment will wear off before the NCAA tournament begins, even though the Wolfpack didn’t come anywhere close to the level it reached in the first meeting with Duke.
Duke is also a different team now than the Wolfpack saw in January. Winslow, who scored nine of Duke’s first 17 points Thursday, was struggling through injuries and a midseason slump then, and the loss to N.C. State was the first of three in a four-game stretch.
Duke wanted to make clear to N.C. State just how long ago that was.
“Just making sure they saw the Duke team we wanted them to see,” Jefferson said. “We weren’t the team we are now when we played them over there. They’re a really good team and they’re really hot, but we were a little bit fresher.”
How badly would Duke beat Miami with another shot at the Hurricanes? What about Notre Dame again? One of those teams will be in Friday’s semifinal, and will most likely see the Duke that Duke wants them to see. Look out.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947