DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - It took a pair of remarkable comebacks to keep the Atlantic Coast Conference race this tight.
Three teams share the league lead, and two needed unlikely rallies Thursday night to do it.
No. 5 Duke rallied from 20 points down with 11 1/2 minutes left to beat North Carolina State 78-73 a few hours after No. 20 Florida State charged back from 15 points down with 15 minutes left to defeat Virginia Tech 48-47 on a late 3-pointer from Michael Snaer.
Had the Wolfpack and Hokies finished things off, No. 8 North Carolina would be alone atop the conference.
Instead, the race remains as muddled as ever with the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Seminoles all entering the weekend with 9-2 conference records.
“We’re in a race for the championship of our conference, and we’ve got to win at home to do that,” Duke guard Seth Curry said. “It would’ve hurt a lot if we had lost this game.”
Curry scored 21 of his season-high 26 points in the second half while freshman Austin Rivers added 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting for the slow-starting Blue Devils (22-4), who trailed by 16 points at the half _ the largest halftime deficit overcome by Duke under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. They did it with late runs of 13-0 and 20-3.
“They thoroughly outplayed us for about 29 minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “And then we thoroughly outplayed them for 11.”
It was Duke’s second remarkable comeback against a neighborhood rival in little over a week. The Blue Devils stormed back from 10 points down in the final 2 1/2 minutes to beat North Carolina.
“I’m tired of doing this, to tell you the truth,” said Rivers, who won the UNC game with a buzzer-beating 3. “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.
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 it.
That came after Snaer’s latest heroics helped Florida State (18-7) stay even with the Tar Heels.
The Seminoles fell behind big after allowing a 17-0 run. And they trailed 45-37 with 1:29 left, but Virginia Tech missed 5 of 6 free throw attempts over the final 69 seconds. That gave Florida State just enough of a chance.
“The basketball gods just smiled on us in this one,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “You’ve got to go and take games. People are not going to give them to you.”
Ian Miller’s 3 from the corner with 44 seconds left got the Seminoles within 47-45. And Snaer, who had made only 3 of his 10 previous shots, then came through with his latest big shot, which came from nearly the same spot on the floor where he beat Duke with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer last month in Durham.
“You don’t have time to think about where your sweet spot is,” Snaer said. “You’ve just go to put it up. When you’ve done it before it’s not hard to believe you can do it again.”
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