Duke starts ACC tourney title defense vs. NC State

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Duke regained some of its confidence going into the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

Now it’s a matter of the 10th-ranked Blue Devils continuing to play at a high level.

On Thursday, Duke — the No. 4 tournament seed — will take on No. 5 seed North Carolina State. The Wolfpack were a 73-58 winner against Pittsburgh on Wednesday afternoon in Greensboro, N.C.

“It’s a confidence booster for all of us … everyone on our team really,” Duke freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. told reporters of the victories to close the regular season. “We just need to carry this into the postseason and keep on getting better.”

The Blue Devils (25-6) won a pair of home games last week, including one over archrival North Carolina, after a two-game skid. Duke is the reigning ACC Tournament champion.

“I think this is the best we’ve felt now,” Duke guard Tre Jones said. “We’re continuing to fight, better and better and more, and our offense is coming along as well.”

Earlier this week, Jones was named the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Carey was picked as the ACC Freshman of the Year. Duke is the first ACC men’s program to have players sweep those awards in the same season.

Among the latest developments involving the Blue Devils is the emergence of forward Justin Robinson, a graduate student who suddenly has become a key component for the team.

Robinson logged a career-high 25 minutes in Saturday’s victory against North Carolina, matching a career-best point total with 13.

“He’s been outstanding and hopefully he can keep it going, because he’s made us better, there’s no question about it,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s really turned it up in practice … My staff just said we have to give him a shot.”

Robinson, the son of NBA legend David Robinson, said it has been a matter of just finding a role where he can contribute.

“With that much talent (on the roster), there’s only so many minutes,” he said. “That’s the way it is.”

Carey has 15 double-doubles this season. Jones has gone 10-for-10 on free throws in two games since the beginning of February.

NC State (20-12) is trying to make a case for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think our team is really too focused like on the outside talk. Inside the locker room we’re just focused on one game at a time,” Wolfpack guard Devon Daniels said. “We know we can’t go where we want to go, like unless we take care of the game at hand, so we’re just taking it one game at a time.”

NC State and Duke split a pair of late-season games, both winning in blowouts at home.

Duke turned to a zone defense to thwart NC State in the rematch.

“I think one of the things that hurt us when they went to the zone, we didn’t make shots,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. “Like we got wide-open shots. When I went back and watched the tape, we didn’t make shots.”

Duke is 103-45 in ACC Tournament play and has won a league-record 21 titles, capturing seven of them at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Blue Devils hold an all-time record of 97-40 in games played in the building.

–Field Level Media

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