Then the Wolfpack ran out of steam.
No. 7 Duke beat N.C. State 75-67 on Saturday in the ACC semifinals, denying the Wolfpack a third win in three days.
"They really believed we could win and they played with great courage," coach Mark Gottfried said. "I thought maybe we got tired in the second half. We didn't seem as fresh as we have been."
Warren, the ACC player of the year, scored 21 points for N.C. State to 20 for Duke's Jabari Parker in a matchup of the ACC's top two scorers.
Warren led the league with an average of 24.9 points while Parker was second at 19.2 points per game.
On Saturday, Warren scored 21 points but was just 4 of 13 after halftime while facing a barrage of double teams.
"Rodney (Hood) did a good job on him just to keep him to 21," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "You can overcoach, and we overcoached our preparation. He was doing what we asked him to do, and it wasn't working, and he said, 'Coach, let me just play him my normal way.' That was better."
The seventh-seeded Wolfpack (21-13) shot just 36 percent in the second half — after hitting 67 percent in the opening half — and were denied their first title game berth since 2007.
"N.C. State was fighting for their lives," Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon said.
Lennard Freeman had 13 points and Anthony "Cat" Barber finished with 12 for N.C. State, which for much of the day looked capable of pulling off a second straight resume-enhancing upset after knocking off No. 11 Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
"I hope they take a look at our team and see how much better we are than we were at the beginning," Gottfried said. "If you win at Pitt, beat Syracuse and beat Duke, hell, you're about a Final Four team then. I think we showed that we certainly belong in the field of 68."
Sulaimon added 16 points for the third-seeded Blue Devils (26-7) while Rodney Hood had 14 points and keyed the defensive effort against Warren. Duke earned its 31st championship game appearance and first since 2011.
The Blue Devils will play No. 6 Virginia on Sunday. Duke's 69-65 win in January stood as the Cavaliers' lone conference loss until Maryland beat them last week.
Duke won on Saturday with a 20-7 run in the second half that was fueled by three N.C. State turnovers and a spate of missed shots.
"I'm not going to force it to get past two people," said Barber, who said he was double-teamed as well. "They just did a great job of defending. ... They just kept their composure throughout the game."
Parker scored six points during the burst that pushed the Blue Devils' lead into double figures for the first time.
A botched lob to N.C. State big man Jordan Vandenberg led to an open court the other way for Parker, and his authoritative dunk over a sidestepping Barber made it 49-45 with 15 minutes left. Quinn Cook ended the run with a 3 that made it 61-49 with about 9½ minutes remaining.
"We got a lot of easy baskets from our defense, and once we got into a rhythm, our shots started falling down and we got rolling," Sulaimon said.
N.C. State never could string together a game-threatening run after that, and the Wolfpack's best chance down the stretch came when they closed to 67-59 on Freeman's jumper with about 3 minutes left.
Hood missed the front end of a one-and-one but the rebound went to Parker — who finished with a momentum-shifting dunk to put Duke back up by 10.
Cook had 14 points for the Blue Devils, who gave N.C. State its most lopsided loss of the season in the teams' only previous meeting — a 95-60 thumping at Cameron Indoor Stadium in which Duke seemed content to let Warren score and clamp down on everyone else.
At least early on Saturday, though, the Blue Devils once again couldn't stop anyone.
N.C. State hit 13 of 15 shots over an 11-minute stretch and scored on 15 of 16 possessions, with the only empty trip in that span coming when Warren missed the front end of a one-and-one.
"First half, neither team could stop one another," Krzyzewski said. "In the second half, we just played better defense."
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