GREENSBORO, N.C. – Kellie Harper and North Carolina State are leaving this Atlantic Coast Conference tournament without pulling any shockers.
The Wolfpack — who sprung at least one upset under Harper in each of the past three ACC tournaments — didn't get one this year after No. 6 Duke rallied to beat them 79-65 on Friday in a quarterfinal.
"We're a tournament sport, and you want to be really good at the end of the season," Harper said. "This team really developed mentally late. ... I could see in the middle of February that we were going to be peaking around tournament time."
Eighth-seeded N.C. State (16-16) was in position to upset the top-seeded Blue Devils for the second straight year when Marissa Kastanek hit a layup with 7 minutes left to put the Wolfpack up 57-53.
But Duke outscored them 24-5 during the next 6-plus minutes, with Tricia Liston doing most of the damage.
"The No. 1 thing on the scouting report for Tricia Liston is to not allow 3s," Harper said. "I think everybody in the gym knows that. It's not rocket science."
Liston's 3-pointer with 6:15 left put the Blue Devils ahead to stay at 58-57, and she added another 3 and went 4 of 4 from the free-throw line during the run. Her foul shot with 45.3 seconds left put Duke up 77-62.
Meanwhile, N.C. State missed 10 of 12 shots during the Blue Devils' run.
"They got some open looks and made them," Harper said. "And we didn't."
Kastanek scored 18 points, Markeisha Gatling finished with 16 and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman added 12 on four 3-pointers for the Wolfpack.
Liston scored 26 points and freshman Alexis Jones added 17 points for Duke (28-2), which shot just under 44 percent and made a season-high 12 3-pointers.
The Blue Devils avenged a bitter loss to N.C. State in last year's quarterfinal round. That defeat snapped a string of 17 straight semifinal appearances for Duke, which has won this tournament seven times. Next up is No. 23 Florida State (22-8), the tournament's fourth seed, in a semifinal Saturday.
"Tournament time is always a fun time, but it's one game and you're out," Liston said. "We really needed to keep that in our mind."
Elizabeth Williams and Richa Jackson each scored 13 points and Liston added 11 rebounds — 10 on the defensive glass — for Duke, which outrebounded the Wolfpack by 12.
The Blue Devils improved to 4-1 without Chelsea Gray, the ACC's co-player of the year who will miss the rest of the season with a dislocated kneecap.
N.C. State — which always seems to give Duke fits — stunned the Blue Devils at this stage of last year's tournament, claiming a 75-73 victory over top-seeded Duke exactly 53 weeks earlier. That victory stirred memories of the feel-good Kay Yow-led Wolfpack team that in 2007 gave an unbeaten, No. 1-ranked Duke squad its first loss in the ACC semifinals.
And the Blue Devils' 67-57 win on Jan. 3 wound up being one of their closest games all season.
So when Duke took a 42-33 lead at the end of the first half, chances were pretty good that it wouldn't hold up — and it didn't.
After allowing the Blue Devils to shoot 50 percent in the first half, N.C. State clamped down on defense and gave up just three field goals in the first 13 minutes of the half while rallying to regain the lead.
Gatling's basket with 11½ minutes left put N.C. State up 51-50, and Goodwin-Coleman's 3-pointer on the next possession gave the Wolfpack their short-lived four-point lead.
"You have to enjoy these games. These are challenging games," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "These are games that prepare you for the NCAA tournament. ... You want to be the very best in the last 8 minutes of the game and dictate as much as possible. That's what we'll take from this."
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at (at)JoedyAP.