by Bob Geary
I know, talking about a good loss makes you a good loser. And it may be little consolation to Pack fans, after today's 73-70 loss to Clemson at the RBC Center, that our Wolfpack could easily be 3-1 in the ACC instead of the cellar-dwelling 1-3 that we are. We had the Virginia won a week ago, then gave it away. Today, we could've caught Clemson at the end, but just missed. That's 0-for-2 at home so far, with a most amazing road win at Florida State in between.
I shall not bore you with today's details -- a nice summary of the finish is available at gopack.com, and the boxscore is here. The news is that State has a new backcourt as of today. Javi Gonzalez and C. J. Williams, the starters a week ago, are no more. The new tandem is Julius Mays and Farnold Degand. Javi and Degand started today, but Javi played poorly and was quickly replaced, in the first half and again in the second half, by Mays, who played a total of 31 minutes, scored 16 points, and had three assists with just two turnovers. Julius is not going to dazzle you with his footwork, and in fact is about as slow afoot as you can be and play major-college basketball. And yet, he played a solid game and, with a lot of help from Farnold and from Richard Howell (more on Howell in a moment), he took over the game for the Pack at the end and almost won it. Say this for Mays: He runs the offense. Javi? Not so much.
Degand giveth and he taketh away, but in the last two games he's used his speed to make plays for the Pack that no one else on the team is capable of making, and he's done it without the old basket-full of mistakes and silly fouls. And you know what, in the second half, as State rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to cut the lead to one with a minute left, Mays and Degand both were coming down the floor with wonderful focus and determination in their eyes -- it's the first time in I don't how long that I found myself thinking that our backcourt was playing pretty damned well.
Up front, Howell played two-thirds of the game at the power forward spot to Dennis Horner's one-third, and Howell registered a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. More than that, he was a man under the basket, teaming with Tracy Smith (16 points, 9 rebounds) to control the inside over the course of the second half against a very good Clemson front line. Meanwhile, on the wing, Scott Wood didn't hit everything he threw up -- as he did at Florida State, when he went off for 31 points -- but he played well, shot OK, and hit a couple of key 3's at the start of the second half when State decided to actually run a couple of offensive plays for him. What a concept.
In the first half, State fell behind by as many as 21 in short order: (1) We attacked the Clemson pressure early, broke it and blew a bunch of layups and open 3's, and then (2) Back on our heels, we decided not to attack the Clemson pressure, and so we got murdered by it. At halftime, State had just seven turnovers, but that didn't tell the story of an offense completely out of sync as a result of Clemson's press. Meanwhile, Clemson ran their offense with good efficiency, going to their All-ACC quality forward, Trevor Booker (13 first-half points, 20 for the game), and finding open men as State was forced to help out defending him. Result: A 43-22 hole near the end of the half, from which we battled ... battled ... battled back, but couldn't quite catch up.
Looking ahead, don't be suprised if Howell replaces Horner in the starting lineup, and even if he doesn't, Howell & Horner plus Tracy Smith -- who once again played very well matched up against Booker -- gives State a first-rate front line. Wood's a solid player too, and it appears that C.J. Williams will be his backup from now on, meaning State has five very good defensive players in the frontcourt rotation. Thumbs up.
In the backcourt, Mays & Degand are a work in progress -- a point guard who's not quick, a two-guard who can't shoot; it's a different approach -- but give them both an "A" for their games today. They are progressing.