North Carolina State needed some pick-me-up results in the final weeks of the regular season to improve its stock for NCAA Tournament consideration.
Duke is in need of a boost as well for other reasons after a rough week.
The teams meet Monday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., for a rematch of a contest with a surprising result less than two weeks earlier.
Duke (23-6, 13-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has lost two games in a row and in the process went from a would-be No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament to holding the fourth-seeded spot entering the final week of the regular season.
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils suffered a 113-101 double-overtime loss at Wake Forest before Saturday night’s 52-50 setback at Virginia.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he hopes the experience gained from the tussle with Virginia will have future benefits.
“As you go forward you would think that you will be in similar games and you hope that you would make one play more and advance,” he said.
Still, Duke could end up atop the ACC regular season in the tight race with Florida State, Louisville and Virginia.
“I think this is a key period for us (to) find out who we really are,” Duke guard Tre Jones said. “This is the most adversity we’ve been through all year, so (we’re) trying to get through this and find out who we really are, continue to battle, continue to fight every single game, and we know that if we keep fighting like we did (against Virginia) everything will work itself out.”
NC State (18-11, 9-9) appears to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble, though snapping a two-game losing skid with Saturday’s comeback victory against Pittsburgh was a boost. Coach Kevin Keatts said he ponders how much to bring up the NCAA Tournament situation.
“I’m always wondering if I tell them how important it is or if I say that it’s just another game and we need to win it,” Keatts said. “It’s a fine line trying to figure out what to tell them.”
NC State’s 88-66 thrashing of Duke on Feb. 19 marked the most lopsided loss to an unranked team in Krzyzewski’s 40 seasons with the Blue Devils.
This is NC State’s third Saturday-to-Monday turnaround on the schedule.
“And those are the toughest ones,” said Keatts, whose team won at Virginia and lost at home to North Carolina in the back ends of the previous two such situations. “That’s a good (Duke) team on their home floor. They’re really good, they’re one of the best teams in the country.”
Duke has two home games remaining in the regular season, with Saturday’s finale against North Carolina also on the docket. NC State finishes Friday night at home against Wake Forest.
Duke and NC State teams have young post players who make differences.
Duke freshman Vernon Carey Jr. has 14 double-doubles this season, though he has fouled out of the past two games.
NC State redshirt freshman Manny Bates leads the ACC with 81 blocked shots and he turned in his first career double-double in Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.
“I couldn’t stop smiling after I heard it,” Bates said of the double-double. “I looked at my mom and she started smiling even more so it was definitely a great moment for me.”
–Field Level Media