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.
‘‘I saw the whole court and I couldn’t see a bit of court,’’ Leslie said. ‘‘I couldn’t see one part of the floor. It was just people everywhere. So that’s going to be a remembrance that we’ll never forget. We’ll always keep this in our minds.’’
This was the kind of moment N.C. State fans long hungry to challenge perennial heavyweights Duke and North Carolina atop the league have been hoping for all season. Their team certainly rose to the occasion, whether it was Leslie performing to his status as the preseason ACC player of the year or Howell attacking the boards and scoring on second-half putbacks that fully seized momentum for N.C. State.
With the Wolfpack protecting a 58-57 lead, Leslie went to work, knocking down a jumper and then getting past Josh Hairston in the lane for another bucket. On the next possession, he muscled the ball up between two defenders, and soon the Wolfpack led, 67-57, with 7:44 left.
The Blue Devils got no closer than 4 again, with Leslie scoring over Mason Plumlee inside to answer the Blue Devils’ last push with 1:41 left. The Wolfpack closed this one out confidently, hitting eight straight and 9 of 10 free throws in the final minute to stay in front.
N.C. State shot 51 percent to earn its 10th straight win and its first 3-0 start in ACC play since the 1988-89 season.
The Blue Devils played the final three-plus minutes without Curry, who crumpled to the court after slipping on a wet spot. They were already without starting forward Ryan Kelly, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury and was on crutches on the Duke bench for this one.
Louisville 64, South Florida 38 — Peyton Siva scored 17 points and the No. 3 Cardinals (15-1, 3-0 Big East) held the host Bulls (9-6, 0-3) to a season-low 27 percent shooting for an easy victory.
Center Gorgui Dieng added 12 points and 16 rebounds while forward Chane Behanan had 12 rebounds and 7 points for the Cardinals, who won their 10th in a row. Behanan played just five days after injuring his left ankle in practice and missing Wednesday’s victory over Seton Hall.
Siva meanwhile bounced back from a 2-of-6 shooting effort against the Pirates to hit seven shots, including three 3-pointers. The Big East Conference preseason player of the year also surpassed 1,000 career points.
The Cardinals dominated the boards, 49-24, including a 19-6 edge in offensive rebounds.
Victor Rudd came off the bench to score 10 points for South Florida (9-6, 0-3).
Despite braces on both ankles, Behanan came out with spring in his step and quickly became a presence with a rebound, a tip-in basket, and steal of an inbounds pass in his first two minutes alone. He ended up with eight rebounds in five minutes, exiting midway through the first half with nearly twice South Florida’s total (five) after 12 minutes.
Behanan added an alley-oop dunk on a lob from Siva to give Louisville a 19-3 lead that typified the Cardinals’ first-half dominance. They led by as many as 25 before heading to the locker room with a 37-15 lead achieved mostly by relentless defense that made seven steals and forced 10 turnovers along with a whopping 30-10 rebounding edge, including a 12-2 advantage offensively.
South Florida’s poor shooting made some of those numbers possible. The Bulls shot just 23 percent in the first 20 minutes (5 of 22) and made just two baskets in the first 10 minutes.
Arizona 80, Oregon State 70 — Solomon Hill had 16 points, including five 3-pointers, to help the No. 4 Wildcats (15-1, 3-1 Pac-12) roll over the host Beavers (10-6, 0-3), who trailed by as many as 17 points in the second half.
Ahmad Starks had 18 points to lead Oregon State, which dropped its third straight.
Mark Lyons added 16 points for the Wildcats, who were plagued by 16 turnovers but made 10 of 25 3-point attempts.
Indiana 88, Minnesota 81 — Victor Oladipo had 20 points and six rebounds and Jordan Hulls knocked down four 3-pointers, helping the No. 5 Hoosiers (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) hold off the No. 8 Gophers (15-2, 3-1) in Indianapolis for their sixth straight win.
Minnesota was led by Andre Hollins with 25 points but had its 11-game winning streak snapped despite rallying from 23 points down at halftime to within 3 with 19.5 seconds left.
Kansas 60, Texas Tech 46 — Kevin Young scored 14 points, and Jeff Withey and Travis Releford added 12 points each in the first Big 12 road game for the No. 6 Jayhawks (14-1, 2-0), who rolled over the Red Raiders (8-6, 1-2) for their 13th straight win.
Jamal Williams scored 11 points to lead Texas Tech and Dejan Kravic added 9 points and eight rebounds.
Syracuse 72, Villanova 61 — C.J. Fair had 22 points, Trevor Cooney hit a pair of 3-pointers to punctuate a late surge, and the No. 7 Orange (16-1, 4-0 Big East) beat the Wildcats (11-5, 2-1) for their 34th straight home win, the longest active streak in the nation in Division 1.
The Orange played without James Southerland, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game who is out until further notice because of an eligibility matter.
Jerami Grant had a career-high 13 points and Dajuan Coleman had 6 as Syracuse’s freshmen had important contributions after hardly playing at Providence on Wednesday night.
Mississippi 64, Missouri 49 — Murphy Holloway scored 22 points, Jarvis Summers added 12, and Ole Miss (13-2, 2-0 Southeastern) cruised to victory over the No. 10 Tigers (12-3, 1-1) at Oxford, Miss.
Ole Miss led the entire game, jumping out to a 9-0 lead. Holloway was nearly unstoppable in the paint, making 8 of 12 shots from the field and 6 of 10 free throws.
Missouri was without leading scorer Laurence Bowers, who is out with a sprained MCL in his right knee, and it was obvious the offense missed him. The Tigers were led by 13 points from Jabari Brown.
Florida 74, LSU 52 — Kenny Boynton scored 20 points and the No. 11 Gators (12-2, 2-0 SEC) used a 31-6 run across both halves to rout the host Tigers (9-4, 0-2).
Patric Young had 14 points for the Gators. Boynton’s perimeter shooting and Young’s interior play were instrumental in Florida controlling the offensive end.
The Tigers stuck around well into the first half before Florida broke a 19-all tie with a 10-1 run to end the half.
Wisconsin 74, Illinois 51 — Jared Berggren scored 15 points and grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds, and Traevon Jackson added a career-best 14 points to lead the host Badgers (12-4, 3-0 Big Ten) to an upset of the No. 12 Illini (14-4, 1-3).
Butler 79, Dayton 73 — Roosevelt Jones scored 16 points, and the No. 14 Bulldogs (14-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) extended their best start in four years, beating the host Flyers (10-6, 0-2) for their 11th straight victory despite losing their top scorer to injury.
Butler lost guard Rotnei Clarke, who hit the padded backboard support hard after an intentional foul at 8:13 at the first half and was taken off the court on a stretcher. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with a sprained neck.
San Diego State 79, Colorado State 72 — Chase Tapley scored 12 of his 19 points in overtime, including two 3-pointers and a layup off a steal, and the No. 16 Aztecs (14-2, 2-0 Mountain West) held off the visiting Rams (13-3, 0-1).
Kansas State 65, West Virginia 64 — Shane Southwell made two free throws with 21 seconds left, then blocked Gary Browne’s layup attempt with a second left to preserve the victory for the No. 18 Wildcats (13-2, 2-0 Big 12) over the host Mountaineers (8-7, 1-2).
Georgetown 67, St. John’s 51 — Otto Porter had 19 points and a season-high 14 rebounds and the No. 19 Hoyas (11-3, 1-2 Big East) broke out of their scoring funk with a rout of the Red Storm (9-7, 1-3) at Madison Square Garden.
Cincinnati 68, Rutgers 58 — Cashmere Wright scored 23 points and the No. 21 Bearcats (14-3, 2-2 Big East) snapped a two-game losing streak and stayed unbeaten on the road by topping the host Scarlet Knights (11-4, 2-2).
UNLV 76, Air Force 71 — Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 18 points and hit the go-ahead jumper in overtime to propel the No. 24 Rebels (14-3, 1-1 Mountain West) past the visiting Falcons (9-5, 1-1).
New Mexico 72, Fresno State 45 — Alex Kirk had 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds as the Lobos (15-2, 2-0 Mountain West) routed the visiting Bulldogs (6-9, 0-2).