North Carolina State couldn't turn the tables on No. 4 Duke.
The Wolfpack blew a big lead and lost at Cameron Indoor Stadium last year, and for a while Thursday night, it looked like it might be their turn to fall into a huge hole and then storm back.
But they couldn't get any closer than eight points down the stretch of their 98-85 loss to the Blue Devils.
N.C. State fell behind by 21 points at halftime of this one but found a sliver of hope from last season's meeting, when it led Duke by 20 points with 11½ minutes to go before allowing the Blue Devils to rally.
"At halftime, that's what I was telling my team — we had them down like this last year, and they came back and beat us," Howell said. "I just wanted to tell my team that to try to keep their heads up and keep them playing in the game, because we were definitely getting ... whupped."
Howell keyed the comeback by scoring 15 of his 23 points in the second half. The Wolfpack (16-7, 5-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) clawed back in it by making 12 of their first 14 shots of the half.
"Our guys could have laid down," coach Mark Gottfried said. "They certainly didn't."
Howell's layup with 5:16 remaining got the Wolfpack within single digits for the first time since the opening minutes at 84-73.
Duke's Quinn Cook countered with a jumper and Howell picked up his fifth foul on the offensive end with 3:41 left. Mason Plumlee followed with two free throws to make it 88-75.
N.C. State then cut it to eight on Scott Wood's 3 with 1:08 left but Seth Curry hit two free throws with 52 seconds left to make it 95-85 and Plumlee added a dunk to make it a 12-point game.
Plumlee scored 30 points, Curry added 26 and Cook had 21 for Duke (20-2, 7-2), which never trailed and shot 53.8 percent from the field to claim its fourth straight win.
C.J. Leslie finished with 16 points and Wood had 14 for the Wolfpack, whose previous four conference losses came by a total of seven points.
Tyler Lewis scored 13 points in place of injured point guard Lorenzo Brown and fellow freshman T.J. Warren had 12 for N.C. State. The preseason favorite in the ACC lost its third straight and was denied its first win in Cameron indoor Stadium since 1995.
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, who missed all 10 of his shots in the previous meeting — an 84-76 loss on Jan. 12 that knocked Duke from No. 1 — had 11 points in this one.
Curry finished with his third straight 20-point game this season and second consecutive huge performance at home against the Wolfpack.
Duke shot 61 percent during a 58-point first half — its highest-scoring half of the season about which coach Mike Krzyzewski said "I don't know if we can play any harder or better."
The ACC's top 3-point-shooting team hit all 10 in the first half — four each by Cook and Curry — and nearly matched its previous season high for a full game, 12, set two months ago against Temple.
"We got good looks, and we had a lot of energy defensively, and that translates to the offensive end," Curry said. "We came out motivated and with a lot of energy, and that showed."
At the other end, N.C. State — which shoots an ACC-best 50 percent — couldn't get anything to fall early and fell way behind. Lewis started 2 of 4, but the rest of his teammates combined to miss their first 11 shots.
"I thought we got some good shots early. We just couldn't make them," Gottfried said. "And at the same time we seemed to be struggling, they were on fire."
A run of injuries left the teams with only a combined 15 available scholarship players.
Brown sat out his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. Duke played without both power forward Ryan Kelly and one of his replacements. Josh Hairston joined him on the bench, out with an infected arm.