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January 31, 2008

Big second half lifts Duke over N.C. State

Box score

DURHAM, N.C. — For the second straight game, Duke found itself trailing by nine points at halftime. Just as before, the third-ranked Blue Devils knew how to respond.

Greg Paulus scored 22 points and freshman Kyle Singler added 19 to help Duke rally past North Carolina State 92-72 on Thursday night, keeping the Blue Devils alone atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

Gerald Henderson and DeMarcus Nelson each had 18 points for the Blue Devils (18-1, 6-0 ACC), who ran into an unexpectedly tough opponent in the first half before turning up their intensity to dominate the rest of the way.

In fact, the Blue Devils made this one look like Sunday's win at Maryland. In that game, Duke allowed Maryland to shoot 62 percent in the first half to build a 51-42 lead at the break before rallying for a 93-84 win.

This time, Duke shook off a spirited effort by Gavin Grant and the Wolfpack (13-7, 2-4), erasing a 46-37 deficit to overwhelm its nearby rival.

"You can't play too much better than we did in the second half," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Indeed. Duke shot 21-for-32 (66 percent) from the field and hit 7 of 11 3-pointers in the second half while allowing the Wolfpack just 18 field-goal attempts after the break. The Blue Devils also took a 19-7 edge on the boards in the half.

As a result, Duke outscored N.C. State 55-26 in the final 20 minutes.

Much of that started with Paulus, the junior point guard who spent the evening either knocking down long-range shots or being a pesky presence to the Wolfpack players.

"We just needed it," said Paulus, who went 5-for-8 from 3-point range and finished with six assists and no turnovers. "We needed everybody to make plays and that's what happened. Everybody stepped up in the second half."

Paulus got the Wolfpack off to a fast start after halftime, assisting on a 3-pointer from Singler before knocking down consecutive 3s to erase N.C. State's lead just 4 minutes into the half.

After following with another 3 two possessions later, he sent the rowdy home crowd into a frenzy when he flipped a pass behind his head on the break to a trailing Singler for the dunk and a 59-55 lead with 13:55 left.

"Greg's an intense player," said Lance Thomas, who had four points and five rebounds. "A lot of people go after him, but Greg's not going to back down. He makes gutsy plays. He's a hard-nosed player and it showed."

He certainly tested the patience of the Wolfpack players all night. Paulus jawed with Grant and freshman point guard Javi Gonzalez for stretches while raising Brandon Costner's ire with a hard foul in a testy first half.

"Any type of competitor would love to play in an atmosphere like this," said Grant, who had a career-high 26 points for the Wolfpack. "Paulus is out there talking trash and elbowing you. He's doing what he has to do for his team to get them revved up."

Duke's lead only grew from there. Singler knocked down a runner over Costner followed by a jumper over Ben McCauley. Nelson blew by a defender to throw down a two-handed slam, and Paulus found Jon Scheyer for a 3-pointer that gave Duke a 70-58 lead midway through the half.

N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe couldn't have asked for much more from his Wolfpack - in the first half, anyway. Grant scored 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting in the first half. Costner came off the bench to score 12. N.C. State also committed just nine turnovers despite sending inexperienced point guards Gonzalez and Marques Johnson against Duke's aggressive perimeter pressure.

When Johnson beat Taylor King into the lane for a spinning layup with about 20 seconds left, the Wolfpack headed into the locker room with plenty of momentum.

In an unusual sight, many of the "Cameron Crazies" and other Blue Devil fans sported bright green Duke T-shirts as part of a daylong event to raise awareness of global warming. But after the Blue Devils fell behind, many of those fans got rid of the shirts.

Duke erased all of that by scoring on six straight possessions to open the half, ending with Paulus' back-to-back 3s.

"We kept (intensity) to where it was," Lowe said. "I thought Duke came out with more (in the second half). We came out ready, but I thought they came out with a little more focus and intensity and were a little more aggressive. They knew what they had to do to get this game back."

For more coverage of Duke, visit DevilsIllustrated.com; for more on N.C. State, visit TheWolfpacker.com.

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