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No matter what happens, we’ll always have the Duke game

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Never forget this legendary night

NCAA Basketball: Duke at N.C. State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Two days later, I am still basking in the glow of NC State’s 88-66 win over Duke.

I’ve tried looking at this game from different angles, and the main conclusion I come to is this is Kevin Keatts’ signature win of his tenure. Regardless of what happens for the rest of the season, nobody can take this win away from the Wolfpack. Even if they don’t make the NCAA tournament, we should not overlook the impact this win has on the Keatts tenure as a whole.

CAUTION: I am avoiding all discussion of “where was this effort all season??” I have been too quick to thinking the sky is falling recently. I am simply enjoying this game for what it was, Kevin Keatts’ best win as a head coach.

This was no normal upset of Duke, which to be honest happens with some regularity.

Comment seen online yesterday: “Duke is to PNC Arena what FSU is to Carter-Finley.”

NC State has beaten Duke in the ESA/RBC/PNC Arena before. This was the seventh time a top 10 Duke team has come to Raleigh since 2000 and lost. It speaks to how well State lifts their game when Duke comes to town. It also speaks to just how often Duke finds itself in the top 10, but whatever. Duke fans and FSU football fans alike do NOT like coming to Raleigh. I myself rushed the court against then #2 Duke during the Herb era. Court and field rushes remain some of my best memories of being at State.

It was not only Coach K’s largest loss to an unranked team, it was Duke’s biggest such loss in 41 YEARS.

Keatts and crew took down then-#2 Duke in PNC during his first year as well, 96-85. As great as that win was, KK’s signature win was the Al Freeman game at #10 UNC. But now, this drubbing of Duke was on another level. This was an iconic Wolfpack win, one for the ages, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole.

There has been a lot of chatter this season questioning Kevin Keatts’ system, and its viability of success in the ACC. We have seen peaks of its potential showing up throughout the past 2.5 seasons. This win over Duke was a complete throttling, in a way I can honestly say I have NEVER seen NC State perform against a ranked, let alone top 10, opponent. State never trailed, started quickly to a 12-2 lead and didn’t look back for even a second.

They instilled their will on the offensive end, played great defense and put their stamp on the game to the point that 10 minutes in the Duke players looked like they wanted to head for the bus. It is the type of effort we have been wanting to see since we heard of the Keatts philosophy. All the guys on the court went 200% for the entire game. Markell Johnson and Devon Daniels, specifically, played their best games in a Wolfpack uniform. Johnson was locked in the whole time, which we have been yelling if he would just do that his ceiling is up with any point guard in the country.

Going beyond the statistical performances, the Pack players won the body language game (and the 5-minute mini games apparently?). The team was supremely confident, and knew they had what it took to hang with a team of Duke’s level. This is the mindset I have always wanted to see in a Wolfpack team, that inherent belief that they belonged. Whether or not it stays down the stretch, it was great to see.

It is totally possible that NC State comes back down to earth when it plays FSU tomorrow. It might not be able to be completely en fuego two games in a row like that. But that’s not the point. We should enjoy this game for what it was. I have to admit, I was beginning to be on the fence on whether Keatts could get this team to lock in and execute at this level.

I have spent time watching the talent coming in next year. Breakdowns of them will come during the offseason. The main thing I’m looking from them is less about their individual talent, it’s more about how well they will fit into this system. And from what I’ve seen, I have high hopes for most of the new recruits being able to slot right in, with the right veteran talent returning.

The Wolfpack didn’t just beat Duke this week, they proved that Kevin Keatts’ system works against the highest level talent. It feels like a very long wait to truly see the potential, and if we can somehow get a whole season of this fully armed and operational style, wooo boy watch out.

Again, that might not happen this year, the Pack might still be headed to the NIT. There is still a path to a NCAA at-large bid, but it will require playing near this level for the remaining five games and at least one win in the ACC tournament. If they get in the conversation, this win goes to the top of the list.

No matter what happens, we’ll always have the Duke game. But even if it doesn’t work out this year, things are looking way up for the Wolfpack.