C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell just weren’t going to let this game get away. It’s why No. 20 North Carolina State celebrated a huge win against No. 1 Duke.
Leslie scored 25 points, including 6 straight during a key second-half run, to help the Wolfpack beat the Blue Devils, 84-76, Saturday at Raleigh, N.C.
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.
N.C. State was picked to win the league for the first time in nearly four decades, though two early losses drained some buzz.
Now N.C. State is back on everyone’s radar, while the Blue Devils (15-1, 2-1) are no longer unbeaten.
Seth Curry scored 22 points despite missing the final minutes with an ankle injury for Duke, which shot 45 percent and 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.
‘‘They played well,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ‘‘I thought we played our butts off. Our kids played with a lot of heart, their kids played with a lot of heart, and they were a little better than we were.’’
Fittingly, Howell hauled in the rebound on Duke’s final shot to end this one, then passed the ball to Lorenzo Brown as Leslie began jumping around near midcourt to celebrate. As the horn sounded, Brown flung the ball high into the air while students and fans stormed the court — the charge led by a fan in a wheelchair — to celebrate.
Fans soon lifted Leslie and Brown on their shoulders amid the sea of red-clad celebration.