North Carolina State picked up a massive bubble victory Wednesday.
The Wolfpack defeated the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils 88-66 in an ACC showdown at PNC Arena. They improved to 17-9 overall and 8-7 in conference play, bouncing back from a lackluster stretch during which they went 2-4 in their last six games.
The Blue Devils fell to 22-4 overall and 12-3 in the ACC after their seven-game winning streak came to an end, hurting their chances at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men's tournament. They are battling with the likes of Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga, San Diego State and more for those coveted top spots in the bracket.
It was largely a three-man effort for the victors on the offensive end.
Markell Johnson went 5-of-6 from deep and consistently darted through the defense on his way to 28 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Devon Daniels also found success attacking the lane with 25 points and nine boards, while DJ Funderburk battled down low and finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for the Blue Devils when Johnson drilled a half-court shot at the buzzer of the first half to take a commanding 44-29 lead into intermission.
North Carolina State extended the lead to 23 in the first four minutes of the second half and was well on the way to a blowout win.
Vernon Carey Jr. (27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks) and Tre Jones (17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals) did their best to spearhead a comeback effort, but the visitors' ugly 10-of-22 (45.5 percent) mark from the free-throw line and 23.5 percent clip from deep undercut those efforts.
By contrast, the Wolfpack shot 61.5 percent from three-point range and bolstered their postseason resume.
It came at an ideal time, as they were not included in the latest bracket projection from Bleacher Report's Kerry Miller. They were under the "next four out" category on Bracket Matrix entering the game.
They will look to build on this critical win Saturday with another key opportunity when they host the No. 8 Florida State Seminoles, while Duke faces the Virginia Tech Hokies at home on the same day.