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Duke wins back-to-back games but daunting stretch looms

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Monster dunk fires up Duke crowd (0:28)

Duke guard Grayson Allen's slam brings the crowd to its feet. (0:28)

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski returned to the bench after staying behind for health reasons on the team’s trip to Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils didn’t miss a beat in putting away a pesky effort from North Carolina State to emerge with an 88-80 victory. It was their first game in Cameron Indoor Stadium after a three-game road trip covered 19 days. Duke now has a tough three-game stretch of ranked teams Louisville, Virginia and at North Carolina.

Guard swap

Duke has used five different starting lineups this season, which, comparatively speaking, isn’t a lot. But Krzyzewski still has a willingness to tweak it this late in the season. Freshman guard Derryck Thornton was put back in the starting lineup for the second straight game in place of Luke Kennard. It led to both players giving the Blue Devils a boost.

Thornton did a solid job defensively on Anthony “Cat” Barber, the ACC’s leading scorer at 23.4 points per game. Thornton got plenty of help, as it seemed Duke’s game plan was to force Barber to give the ball up through traps and help defense. Barber was limited to nine points in the first half.

Thornton had a solid game save for one stretch in the second half when his two turnovers led to consecutive baskets by the Wolfpack as they re-took the lead.

Kennard came off the bench to ignite the Blue Devils with three 3-pointers and 11 points in the first half. He stayed hot in the second, thanks to N.C. State inexplicably losing track of him on the floor during a couple of possessions. Kennard hit two of his three 3-pointers in the second half on defensive lapses and finished with 26 points. His season high is 30 points at home in Duke’s 95-91 win over Notre Dame.

Not bad, meaning bad

N.C. State might be the best team with an 18 percent conference winning percentage in the nation. Three of their ACC losses were one-possession games or in overtime and a fourth to Louisville was 77-72.

Barber’s quickness and his ability to change speeds within the same dribble makes him extremely difficult to defend one-on-one. He entered Saturday’s game having scored 30 or more points in three straight games and in six overall on the season. That puts him second to Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield for the most nationally. Barber, who finished with 26, could elevate the Pack in the same way Kris Dunn has in Providence -- if N.C. State had a high-scoring post player in the way Dunn has Ben Bentil.

The long goodbye

N.C. State’s Caleb Martin fouled out with 4:41 left in the game then engaged in a standoff with most of the Cameron Crazies. The student section waved their hands in his direction, waiting for him to sit on the bench to say “See Ya.” Martin refused to sit down -- through free throws from Thornton and Barber, through a media timeout, through Brandon Ingram free throws, through another timeout. Martin kneeled in front of his seat, presumably to avoid the officials instructing him to sit down, but outlasted the Cameron crowd by never taking a seat on the bench.