by Neil Morris
In a game that wasn’t even as close as the 11-point margin of victory would indicate, the Wolfpack (12-5, 1-1 ACC) lost 82-71 and ended a six-game winning streak to an ACC team that somehow emerged from their non-conference cupcake season with the same number of wins and losses. The Yellow Jackets (8-8, 1-1 ACC) entered Wednesday’s game in the midst of four-game losing skid, which began with a home loss to Mercer (RPI of 117) and road loss at Fordham (RPI of 203).
So, first-year Tech head coach Brian Gregory spoke for many when asked after the game whether he saw this win coming.
“Hell no,” a clearly relieved Gregory quipped. “I liked the way we played Saturday [against Duke]. Our guys are starting to grasp the concept that it’s hard to play well if you don’t practice well…I felt good about our team, but I also knew how good North Carolina State was and how well they had been playing.”
To put it another way, a Tech team that came in averaging 65 points per game scored 82; a team averaging 45.5 percent from the floor shot 51 percent; and most significantly, a team shooting 22 percent from behind the arc made 9 of 15 three-pointers (60 percent).
Glen Rice Jr. paced Georgia Tech off the bench (although he entered the game within the opening two minutes) with 22 points — four other Jackets reached double-digits. Meanwhile, although all five Wolfpack starters also scored double-digits points, several typically reliable contributors fell short in key categories. Richard Howell had his second straight four-rebound output, along with turning the ball over four times and staying in foul trouble all night. Lorenzo Brown had 13 points and a game-high six assists, but the point guard also had four turnovers. Even Scott Wood, who came in averaging 49 percent from the field, shot a miserable 3 of 11, including 2-9 three-point attempts.
More telling than statistics, however, was the Wolfpack’s lack of early focus and always being a step slow chasing loose balls and on the boards — State snared only 29 rebounds, second-lowest of the season besides the 28 against Texas and Syracuse.
Moreover, foul trouble again plagued a State squad already lacking depth. C.J. Leslie, who led the Pack with 16 points and seven rebounds, only played 24 minutes before fouling out in the game’s waning seconds. Howell and Wood each finished with four infractions; Howell’s fouls also limited him to 29 minutes, including one of the key stretches of the game near the end of the first half. After picking up his second foul with the scored tied 28-28 and 3:50 left in the half, Howell was subbed out soon afterwards for Thomas de Thaey. The Jackets went on to build an 11-point lead going into intermission.
A number of questionable (and some not-so-questionable) second-half calls by referees Jaime Luckie and Roger Ayers drew the ire of the 14,072 State partisans and N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, who was whistled for a technical foul by Ayers at 12:12 in the second half shortly after Gottfried had gone to his trademark move of shedding his suit jacket in frustration. During an ensuing timeout, Gottfried walked near midcourt and motioned for Ayers — who had retreated to the opposite end of the court — to come talk to him. Ayers — who was recently in the news for being part of the officiating crew that looked on while Louisiana-Lafayette used a six-on-five player advantage to sink a game-winning bucket over Western Kentucky — tersely declined Gottfried’s invitation.
While stressing that the referees had nothing to do with his team’s lackluster performance or loss, Gottfried was clearly frustrated with some of the officiating, particularly not being given a reason for the technical.
“Nope, I never got an explanation,” said Gottfried. “I asked repeatedly and never got one. Never had any communication after that from them and that’s a little bit frustrating on my side…I don’t think it was for throwing the jacket — I can take my jacket off anytime I’d like to; that’s my prerogative.”
It fell to Gregory to remind the Wolfpack of their recent success.
“There’s a reason [N.C. State] was 12-4 going into this game,” said the Tech coach. “They’re going to bounce back. They were fun to scout and watch because you saw their development through all the games. So, Mark’s doing a great job and his guys are buying in.”
Gottfried, however, wasn’t feeling so chipper and, like Gregory, also decided to go a bit blue for his late-night routine.
“Sometimes we all like to come up with this grand answer of why your team doesn’t play good. Sometimes you just don’t play good. Hell, I go golf — shit, sometimes I’m terrible and sometimes I’m a little better. It’s part of life. Tonight we didn’t play very well, and we have to play better.”
The Wolfpack will look to play better this Saturday at Wake Forest before returning to the RBC Center next Thursday, Jan. 19 to take on Boston College.