RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — C.J. Leslie scored 25 points — including six straight during a key second-half run — to help No. 20 North Carolina State beat No. 1 Duke 84-76 on Saturday.
Richard Howell added 16 points and 18 rebounds in a relentless performance for the Wolfpack (14-2, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) in a matchup of the teams predicted to finish 1-2 in the league.
N.C. State was picked for the first time in nearly four decades to win the league, though two early losses drained some buzz.
No longer. Now N.C. State is back on everyone’s radar, while the Blue Devils (15-1, 2-1) are no longer unbeaten.
Seth Curry scored 22 for Duke, which shot 45 percent and hung around early by crashing the boards for second-chance baskets. But the Blue Devils had no answer after halftime for Leslie and Howell, a duo that helped the Wolfpack lead all second half.
Fittingly, Howell hauled in the rebound on Duke’s final shot to end this one, then passed the ball to Lorenzo Brown as Leslie began jumping around near midcourt to celebrate. As the horn sounded, Brown flung the ball high into the air while red-clad students and Wolfpack fans stormed to the court to celebrate.
This was the kind of moment N.C. State fans — long hungry to challenge perennial heavyweights Duke and North Carolina atop the league — have been hoping for all season. Their team certainly rose to the occasion, whether it was Leslie performing to his status as the preseason ACC player of the year or Howell attacking the boards and scoring on second-half putbacks that fully seized momentum for N.C. State.
With his team protecting a 58-57 lead, Leslie went to work, knocking down a jumper then getting past Josh Hairston in the lane for another bucket. On the next possession, he muscled the ball up between two defenders, and soon the Wolfpack pushed its biggest lead to 67-57 with 7:44 left.
The Blue Devils got no closer than four again, with Leslie scoring over Mason Plumlee inside to answer the Blue Devils’ last push with 1:41 left.
The Wolfpack closed this one out confidently, hitting eight straight and 9 of 10 free throws in the final minute to stay in front.
N.C. State shot 51 percent to earn its 10th straight win and its first 3-0 start in ACC play since the 1988-89 season.
The Blue Devils played the final 3-plus minutes without Curry, who crumpled to the court with an apparent foot injury. They were already without starting forward Ryan Kelly, who it out indefinitely with a foot injury and was on crutches on the Duke bench for this one.
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