DURHAM It is not hard to imagine that the first meeting between Duke and N.C. State might have had a different conclusion had Seth Curry not slipped on a wet spot on the PNC Arena floor last month.
The Blue Devils were mounting a comeback, but it sputtered when Curry went out.
Curry made sure there was no doubt Thursday. When N.C. State cut Duke’s lead to 12 late in the first half, Curry scored 10 straight points to close out the half and give Duke a 21-point halftime lead – and it could have been more had his buzzer-beating try been good.
That was more than enough for the Blue Devils, who cruised to a 98-85 win behind Curry’s 26 points, his third straight 20-point game and his best scoring run of the season.
On a night when so many key players were missing – Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston for Duke, Lorenzo Brown for N.C. State, which also lost Scott Wood to a right leg injury for a good chunk of the first half – there were some interesting freshman cameos.
Tyler Lewis led the Wolfpack onto the floor and didn’t look out of place in Brown’s point guard spot, and Rasheed Sulaimon went after Wood on Duke’s first two possessions, blowing past him for a layup, then stepping back for a 3-pointer, setting the tone for the Duke offensive explosion to follow.
Alex Murphy had a resounding dunk for Duke in transition as well, blowing past two N.C. State defenders for his 21st and 22nd points of the season.
Both teams relied most heavily on their stars: Richard Howell (23 points) for N.C. State, Mason Plumlee (30 points) and Curry for Duke, with Curry doing as much as anyone to put the game away at the end of the first half.
Curry led Duke with 22 in the first meeting despite leaving the game for good with three minutes to play and Duke down six. Curry had scored 11 of Duke’s previous 15 points when he tweaked his left ankle for the second time this season, and the Blue Devils were outscored 11-9 the rest of the way in Raleigh.
Since an 0-for-10 performance in the dismal loss to Miami, Curry has been on his most consistent scoring run of the season – 13 points against Maryland, 21 at Wake Forest, 21 at Florida State and 26 on Thursday.
Over the past two games, he is 9-for-19 on 3-pointers, and shooting nights like these make it all too easy to forget he has spent most of the season in constant pain, trying to manage a chronic right shin injury that has plagued him for months and restricted his practice time.
That’s especially difficult for a shooter like Curry, who has few opportunities outside of games to practice getting shots in the flow and rhythm of the offense with his teammates.
He has still managed to show significant improvement over last season in his shooting percentage from 3-point range and overall.
It is, of course, mere conjecture whether Duke could have pulled off the comeback in Raleigh, but there was very little chance of it after Curry left the game.
Thursday, N.C. State had visions of a comeback of its own, getting as close as eight with 67 seconds to go, but Curry’s two free throws put the game away, if he hadn’t already by halftime.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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