DURHAM, N.C. -- No deficit seems too deep these days for No. 5 Duke -- even if the Blue Devils insist they can't afford to keep winning this way.
For the second time in nine days, Duke staged a remarkable comeback to beat a neighborhood rival. This time they rallied from 20 points down with 11 1/2 minutes left and topped North Carolina State 78-73 on Thursday night.
"I'm tired of doing this, to tell you the truth," freshman guard Austin Rivers said. "This is a great win, but we're exhausted, man. This is a weird win for us. I'm so proud and everybody's so proud, but at the same time, we need to stop doing this.
"To be down in 20 in Cameron should never happen," he said.
Seth Curry scored 21 of his season-high 26 points in the second half while Rivers added 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting for the slow-starting Blue Devils (22-4, 9-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who trailed by 16 points at the half -- the largest halftime deficit overcome by Duke under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"They thoroughly outplayed us for about 29 minutes," Krzyzewski said. "And then we thoroughly outplayed them for 11."
They did it with late rallies of 13-0 and 20-3 to erase that huge deficit and keep pace atop the league standings with No. 20 Florida State and No. 8 North Carolina. Last week, Duke stormed back from 10 points down in the final 2 1/2 minutes to beat the Tar Heels.
Lorenzo Brown scored 19 points to lead the Wolfpack (18-8, 7-4), who trailed 76-73 with the ball in the final seconds with a chance to force overtime.
But Brown missed a contested 3-pointer from the corner with about 7 seconds left, and Curry hit two free throws with 2.2 seconds to go to seal N.C. State's 14th straight loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"We're a good team. We've got to find a way to become a little bit better," first-year coach Mark Gottfried said.
Alex Johnson scored a season-high 13 points, C.J. Leslie added 12 and Scott Wood had 10 for N.C. State, which led 61-41 on Brown's free throw with 11:33 left.
Then, the Blue Devils finally showed some life.
They started coming back by reeling off 11 straight points, with Curry hitting three free throws and Andre Dawkins knocking down a 3-pointer before Curry's jumper with 8:44 left made it 61-52 -- the first time Duke was within single digits since midway through the first half.
After DeShawn Painter put N.C. State up 68-56 with 6:10 left, the Blue Devils came up with their final surge.
Rivers started it with a 3-pointer and scored nine points during the burst. His deep 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes left gave Duke its first lead, 72-71.
"It was just kind of the same thing I did versus Carolina," Rivers said of his buzzer-beating 3 that beat the Tar Heels.
Mason Plumlee added 10 rebounds for the Blue Devils, who denied the Wolfpack their first victory at Cameron since 1995 -- when Krzyzewski was out following back surgery. N.C. State hasn't beaten a Krzyzewski-coached team in Durham since 1988.
The Wolfpack played important stretches without key players who were stuck on the bench in foul trouble. Guard C.J. Williams managed just three points -- he averages 11 -- while playing just 12 minutes before fouling out. Two key members of N.C. State's front line -- Richard Howell and Leslie -- also fouled out.
"It made it difficult, and we lost our aggressiveness when we got so many guys in foul trouble," Gottfried said. "That hurt. We've got to do a better job of defending without fouling."
And things don't get much easier for the Wolfpack, who play host to the Seminoles on Saturday and the Tar Heels next Tuesday.
"You put in a whole week of work preparing for these guys and go up 16 at halftime and give it up, it's tough to swallow," Johnson said. "But Coach said it in the huddle. We've just got to let this one go and get ready for Saturday."
N.C. State seemed headed for its first big win under Gottfried after its impressive start. The Wolfpack dominated things early, leading by double figures for most of the first half after forcing Duke into some uncharacteristically cold shooting early.
Wood's free throw with 1:53 left stretched the lead to 19 points, and Brown's dunk over Ryan Kelly with 14 seconds left made it 46-30. Only Ohio State (47) had more points at halftime against Duke.
"Nobody quit. That's the biggest thing," Curry said. "Nobody thought we were going to lose any time in the game. That's the biggest thing about our team."