DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke went with something old and something new in its 72-65 victory over North Carolina State last night in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The old was team defense, played with the bite of a German shepherd, just like Duke teams have done for years.
The new was Thomas Hill, and even that isn't brand new. Hill, a 6-4 sophomore, scored 17 points and hit two critical jumpers in the lane to help the Blue Devils put away a valuable ACC victory. Hill, looked upon as a role player when the season began, has emerged as perhaps the ACC's most unheralded quality player, and he demonstrated it again to the dismay of the Wolfpack.
"Thomas has been one of the best players in our league this year," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I'm not having a crusade but it's evident that Thomas Hill has been clutch all the way. . . all the way."
With Duke nursing a five-point lead in the final two minutes, Hill worked out of set plays to convert consecutive 12-footers in the lane to doom the Wolfpack.
The Blue Devils, who travel to Arizona Sunday, needed someone to grab hold of the game when they couldn't seem to put it away. It seemed for much of the sticky night that the Blue Devils were ready to bolt away from the Wolfpack, but they never could. Duke wasted a 13-point first-half lead and was only two points ahead entering the final nine minutes.
Duke's foul shooting, or more accurately, Duke's inability to shoot foul shots, kept feeding the Wolfpack's chances to hang within striking distance. Duke, which entered the game hitting 77.7 percent from the line in ACC games, hit 11 of 25 free throws.
But with its defense breathing fire at one end and Hill making the big plays at the other, Duke was able to slip out of its building still atop the ACC standings.
The victory pushed Duke to 9-3 in the league, one-half game in front of North Carolina entering the final 10 days of the regular season. N.C. State, the last league team with a chance of making it a three-team race, fell to 6-5 in the ACC with a game coming against Virginia Saturday.
Duke, which has had a devil of a time beating N.C. State in recent years, never let the Wolfpack's explosive offense get started. After being burned by N.C. State's 63 percent shooting in their first meeting this year, the Blue Devils clamped down on Rodney Monroe and Tom Gugliotta.
Monroe, who spent most of the evening trying unsuccessfully to elude Duke's Brian Davis, scored 16 points, 12 below his average. Davis gave Monroe little room to set up and forced him inside much of the game.
"I just wanted to be in his face all night," said Davis, three inches taller than the 6-3 Monroe. "He's not the kind of guy who gets frustrated because he can miss three or four shots and come back and hit three or four in a row. So I just wanted to stay with him all night."
Gugliotta never got into the offensive flow and scored just five points. It was the result of Krzyzewski's plan to keep his best defenders in the game.