Jimmy Valvano would have loved Saturday's game between NC State and Duke. There was so much passion, energy, emotion and enthusiasm in the PNC Arena.
I felt the game was a must-win for the Wolfpack. NC State had such high expectations going into the season as the ACC favorite. Now it had to prove that those lofty expectations were accurate.
It was a crucial game for the Wolfpack to defend their home turf. It was also important to take advantage of a Blue Devils team that was missing injured forward Ryan Kelly. Even though diaper dandy Amile Jefferson stepped in and played well, Duke is a different team without Kelly's veteran leadership and outside shooting ability.
I know that NC State coach Mark Gottfried lamented that the Blue Devils replaced an injured star with a McDonald's All-American.
NC State's offense excelled in transition in the first half. Then C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell dominated inside. Defensively, the Wolfpack did a nice job containing Duke's three-point game. Gottfried's team defended the perimeter, with all five guys playing as a unit.
Leslie showed the potential everyone talked about going into the season. He is a star, a veteran player who had to take over the game on his home court. He did a great job of attacking the basket.
Howell anchored the Wolfpack inside, doing a super job on the glass. Then look at the play of Lorenzo Brown, who played within himself, making outstanding passes to set up his teammates.
Duke fought hard, as it always does. Coach K's teams work with so much tenacity and give 110 percent. With Kelly out and Seth Curry sidelined for part of the contest, it was an uphill battle down the stretch.
NC State got a win it had to have. It was a great environment, and the ACC is going to be better than some people think.