Blue Devils make statement as Wolfpack squander Senior Night

North Carolina State's DJ Burns Jr. tries to drive the ball around Duke's Sean Stewart (13) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, March 4, 2024. (Karl B DeBlaker / AP Photo)

The Duke Blue Devils exorcized some of their PNC Arena demons, defeating the NC State Wolfpack 79-64 Monday night.

“It felt a little bit like deja vu there in the first couple of minutes there the way the game started off,” said Duke coach Jon Scheyer. “But just how we showed poise, which you have to show against these guys, and a lot of toughness.”

The two Tobacco Road rivals battled hard in a close match until about halfway through the second half, at which point Duke pulled away and never looked back.

Senior Jeremy Roach (21 points) and freshman Jared McCain (16) led the way for the Blue Devils. Freshman Sean Stewart gave Duke some valuable minutes with Kyle Filipowski getting into foul trouble early. Stewart had 12 points, four offensive rebounds, three blocks and two steals primarily matched up against DJ Burns.

“The things Sean did,” Scheyer said. “He just competed throughout. … His work has been consistent the whole time. The job that Sean has done, just adjusting to the college game, he’s just gotten better and better. Sean provides something we don’t have. He’s our best athlete, his versatility on defense, his touch around the basket, he’s a lob threat and his skill is going to continue to get better and better.”

It was also a strong night for Duke off the glass and on the ball as they dominated the Pack in both stats, picking up 19 offensive rebounds for 23 second-chance points and committing just five turnovers.

“Giving up 19 offensive rebounds is never a good situation for you,” said NC State coach Kevin Keatts. “It’s weird when I look at this stat sheet because they got 12 more shots than us and typically that’s who we are. We turn people over so we get more possessions.”

For NC State, it was yet another night in what has become a season of runs.

The start of the game perfectly encapsulated that frustrating truth. NC State started the game on a 9-0 run before surrendering the next 11 points to the Blue Devils. 

“You have to calm down on offense,” Scheyer said. The coach called a time out to calm his team after State scored seven straight. “You can’t play the way they want to play. You have to play the way we want to play which is being tough and getting stops on defense.”

On the one hand, when Burns was on the floor, the Wolfpack looked like worldbeaters. His physicality in the paint forced Filipowski into foul trouble early, taking him out of the first half, and his 27 points led the Pack.

“They don’t have a legitimate post guy so we knew that we could get an advantage on that,” Keatts said of Burns’ dominant performance.

But when he came off the court, things just unraveled.

“At this point, we have to become mistake free, because what happens is, as we get down the stretch, the more mistakes we make, the more the opportunity that we’re going home and that’s what happened to us,” Keatts said. “We made some mistakes we shouldn’t have. Those were not winning plays and we have to figure out how to make winning plays the entire game and not just winning plays for 30 minutes of the game.”

Multiple offensive droughts kept the Wolfpack from generating any momentum. The five guards NC State used combined for just 25 points. Eventually that offensive frustration carried over to the defense as Duke snapped out of their own early scoring slump to shoot 62.5% in the second half.

“We had some defensive breakdowns that we had not allowed the entire game,” Keatts said. “When we stopped scoring, they got out in transition and made some baskets. It’s a good basketball team, but when you’re playing against a good basketball team, you can’t have those breakdowns.”

After losing its first two road games of the season, Duke finished their regular season road schedule on a 7-2 run.

“You have to be tough to win on the road,” Scheyer said. “You have to go through some stuff and we have.”

The Blue Devils will finish off their regular season with a showdown against No. 7 UNC while NC State hits the road to take on Pitt for its regular season finale.

Then, it’s on to the Nation’s Capital for the ACC Tournament.

“There’s so much parity in this league,” Keatts said. “I think the tournament is completely wide open.”