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Believe it! Wolfpack Downs No. 1 Duke, 78-74

By Tony Haynes
Posted Sunday, February 15, 2004

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NC State holds off a late Blue Devil rally for the crucial ACC win.

Raleigh, N.C. - In one memorable Sunday evening at the RBC Center, No. 21 NC State ended Duke's 18-game winning streak, while also preventing the Blue Devils from running away and hiding in the race for the ACC regular season title. And more than likely, the Wolfpack also pulled the plug on Duke's reign as college basketball's top-ranked team. Marcus Melvin and Julius Hodge scored 18 points apiece, Ilian Evtimov added 15 and Scooter Sherrill 11 as NC State sent 19,722 fans into a frenzy with a 78-74 victory over the Blue Devils.

The current ACC record is the Pack's best since 1973-74.

Now 16-5 overall and 9-2 in the ACC, the Wolfpack is venturing into the type of rare air it hasn't experienced in a long, long time. The current ACC record is the Pack's best since the 1973-74 national title team won all of its conference games. NC State's five-game conference winning streak is also its first such streak since 1974. The victory, the Wolfpack's first over a top-ranked team since it downed North Carolina in 1998, left the Pack only one game behind the Blue Devils (21-2, 10-1) in the ACC standings.

"It's certainly a wonderful moment for all of us," said NC State head coach Herb Sendek. "Our fans were once again sensational. The RBC was rocking from before the game until right after the game."

In fact, the massive building turned into party central right after the horn sounded when thousands of students swarmed the floor while Aretha Franklin's "Respect" was played over the loud speakers. Respect is exactly what NC State will be getting after turning back Duke, a powerhouse that had run the table in the ACC before Sunday night's game.

Led by Melvin's 13 points and eight rebounds, the Wolfpack took a 36-26 lead into the locker room at halftime. But no lead is safe against the Blue Devils, especially when sophomore J.J. Redick is on the floor. As if firing a salvo, Redick drilled a long 3-pointer right before the halftime horn just to get his team within 10 points.

And by the time Redick had hit another 3 and Chris Duhon two more from the parking lot, the Blue Devils were down by only two at 40-38 with 16:15 left. Staring right down the barrel of a high-pressure college basketball gun, however, NC State didn't flinch and, in fact, never would relinquish the lead in the second half.

"Guys just stayed poised," said Sherrill, who played the last eight minutes with four fouls. "We were at home and the crowd was behind us. Even though they cut it to two, we stayed focused. That's all it really was; we just kept playing hard, guys didn't get down on themselves and eventually we got some breaks."

And unlike last year's ACC title game in Greensboro when it let a 15-point advantage over the Blue Devils vanish, NC State hung tough down the stretch, getting big plays from virtually everyone who checked in.

There was reserve guard Cameron Bennerman, in the game for significant minutes after Sherrill picked up his fourth foul with over 18 minutes left, scoring five of his seven points in the second half, including a big 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Pack a 51-42 lead with 10:25 remaining. Hodge also stepped up in the second half, making a series of tough shots in close. Evtimov, who drove Duke big men Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph crazy with his drives from the top of the key, had a number of key baskets in both halves.

Then there was Melvin, who added 11 big rebounds to go along with his offensive production.

Over the final minutes, players on both teams continued to make big play after big play as NC State tried to hold on against a Duke team that wasn't about to go down without a fight. The nation's number one free throw shooting team entering the game, the Wolfpack would make its last 13 foul shots over the last 2:18. The Pack would need each and every one of them to close it out.

Down eight points with 31 seconds left, Duke got an impossible contested 3 from Redick to make it 74-69. After Sherrill bagged a pair from the line, Redick was fouled by Engin Atsur on a 3-point shot. Redick, who finished with a game-high 28 points, made all three tries to trim State's lead down to just four. Then it really got hairy when a steal and basket by Duke's Sean Dockery made it 76-74 with seven seconds left.

But that's when the Wolfpack's clutch free throw shooting finally put Duke away. Fouled before the inbounds pass, Hodge drained two on the other end to ice it and set the stage for a wild celebration.

"I thought our guys really played together well," Sendek said. "They played hard; they maintained their poise and composure throughout the game. One of the reasons this is a special moment is because Duke is so good and they've had such a great run. Anytime you beat the number one team in the country, a program the caliber of Duke, it's a great win for anybody who touches NC State basketball."

The Wolfpack did just about everything it needed to do to beat a team as good as Duke. After shooting 60.9 percent in the opening half, the Wolfpack would go on to hit 52 percent (26-50) for the game against one of college basketball's most formidable defensive teams. State was also 6-of-12 from 3-point range to go along with a 20-of-24 performance from the free throw line. And after turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, the Wolfpack had just four after intermission. On top of everything else, the Pack outrebounded the Blue Devils 35-27 and outscored Duke 34-20 in the paint.

"They were prepared and in those first 20 minutes, we were kind of fortunate to be down only 10," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team shot 41.1 percent for the game. "They outrebounded us 22-to-9 in the first half and shot 60 percent. Us forcing 11 turnovers kind of kept us in the ballgame. They were able to dictate the style in which the game was being played and they did it well. Their veterans were outstanding. Hodge, Sherrill, Melvin, Evtimov...the kids who have played a lot of games, they played like a real veteran basketball team. They outplayed us over the full 40 minutes."

Redick was again sensational, hitting 8-of-15 shots. Duke also got 17 points from senior guard Chris Duhon, 11 from Daniel Ewing and 10 from freshman Luol Deng. Williams, Duke's 6-10 center, was a non factor, taking only four shots from the field and scoring just four points.

"They force you to bring out the best that you have if you're going to have a chance to be competitive," Sendek said of Duke. "Our guys really had a tremendous amount of determination tonight. We had tremendous leadership in our huddles; guys are just really pulling together. We've become a team. Earlier, we were just a collection of individuals called a team. Now we're truly becoming a team."

A team that can now celebrate a win over one of college basketball's heavyweights.

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Reprinted from gopack.com with permission of Tony Haynes.

 
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Believe it! Wolfpack Downs No. 1 Duke, 78-74
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