RALEIGH, N.C. – C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell wanted this moment, the chance to help No. 20 North Carolina State make a big step forward after a bumpy start to a season filled with potential.
Now, after a rousing performance to take down No. 1 Duke, the duo has put the Wolfpack back on everyone’s radar.
Leslie scored 25 points, including six straight during a key second-half run, to help N.C. State beat the Blue Devils 84-76 on Saturday.
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.
“Coach (Mark Gottfried) said in the locker room: Nobody’s going to give us anything and we’ve got to take it,” Howell said. “That’s the mindset we came out with. We’ve got to take everything … and that’s what we did.”
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. Any lowered expectations are gone along with Duke’s perfect record.
“I thought our guys, they accepted the challenge,” Gottfried said. “It’s one of those (games) where it comes to a point where mentally you say, ‘I’m going to get it done’ and they’re not going to go away. … They’re not going to lay down for us. Our guys mentally showed a lot of toughness.”
Seth Curry scored 22 despite missing the final minutes with a left ankle injury for Duke (15-1, 2-1), which 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.