The ESPN2 announcers mention NC State is the most accurate shooting team in the country while Stanford is last in the Pac-12. NC State is ranked, at home, and plays in a far tougher conference, so my test today is whether Stanford can run with these guys. NC State is a tournament team, so even if the Cardinal don't win, do they look like they belong on the same court? Thus far, it's too early to tell, as if not for missed free throws and some scrappy Stanford rebounding, the Wolfpack might be running away early. Dwight Powell had the prettiest bucket of the period, however, pumping and filling on an 18-foot baseline J.
12 to go: NC State 20, Stanford 17
Aaron Bright enters the game with five quick points, as the Cardinal continue to stay close in their first true road game of the season. It's a test of two different styles as the Wolfpack rank No. 13 nationally in adjusted offense per the irreplaceable kenpom.com, but just No. 97 in defense. The Cardinal come into the contest No. 15 in D, meanwhile, and a middling No. 116 with the ball.
Eight to go: NC State 31, Stanford 23
Both teams are hot early, with Stanford 9-of-19 (47%) and NC State 10-of-17 (59%). Scott Wood is 5-of-7, all from deep, as he makes three straight Wolfpack buckets, personally accounting for the 29-20 margin.
A major weakness inherent in any zone D, NC State's current look included, is a difficulty boxing out on defensive rebounds. Here, the Cardinal made the Pack pay to keep the lead in single figures. An unmarked John Gage rebounds at the free throw line extended, and the ball then rotates to Aaron Bright, who drains a contested, off-balance three. Bright now has eight points on three shots.
Four to go: NC State 37, Stanford 31
A Gage J and a Robbie Lemons strip and steal quickly halve the deficit to four. After a scoreless stretch, Andy Brown sneaks by the home D for a layup that brings Stanford within two, but the Wolfpack counter with two free throws, a charge drawn on Chasson Randle and a tough 16-foot jumper from atop the key. Brown steals and finds Powell to end a two-on-one with an emphatic dunk, but NC State again draws a whistle, Stanford's ninth, this time for an and-one.
Halftime: NC State 43, Stanford 38
The Cardinal draw two charges and a goaltending call on the period. Dwight Powell pays a heavy price on the goaltending sequence, as NC State's post lands off-balance and swings his foot straight into Powell's genitals. Powell grimaces down the court, only to come back, draw a blocking foul, and make both free throws. He has a game-high 15 on a game-high 13 attempts to keep the Cardinal very much alive heading into the locker room.
16 to go: NC State 50, Stanford 42
Josh Huestis has a shot blocked -- NC State has ten blocks to Stanford's one -- and misses on the next possession down the court, as NC State re-establishes its largest margin of the night, a nine-point lead. No matter, as Huestis recovers with a steal and Rosco Allen throws in a jumper. Dwight Powell then misses a dunk, but after an offensive rebound and a defensive foul, Stanford will have no shortage of looks at the hoop. Alas, the Cardinal are already 1-of-9 on the half as Randle misses a jumper to end the possession with a literal and figurative thud.
12 to go: NC State 66, Stanford 50
And there fell off the wheels. As Hemmingway wrote of going bankrupt, it happened gradually, then suddenly. Gradual as Stanford entered the road underdog and has neither led nor looked the better team at any point in this one. Sudden as a manageable eight-point deficit ballooned to 14 after the following sequence: NC State jumper, missed Robbie Lemons three, NC State jumper, strip of Aaron Bright and fast-break layup. Stanford (finally) made some jumpers to keep the disparity from further runaway growth, but barring something miraculous, it looks too little too late at this juncture.
Eight to go: NC State 69, Stanford 58 The announcers are discussing the Cardinal settling for threes, and I agree that Stanford has quit being aggressive on offense. But to me, the Cardinal let their foot off the gas only now, after NC State's lead threatened 20. So while that's mild condolence for Johnny Dawkins at the moment, know that the Cardinal did come out swinging. Besides, NC State has taken a breath too, as Randle, Powell and Bright each put up easy twos off NC State mistakes to pull within 11.
Four to go: NC State 75, Stanford 64 Huestis has an O board and uncontested dunk, and propelled by the Wolfpack's defensive malaise, a 17-point lead is now just nine. Make that a 17-4 run after a Randle layup and another Huestis putback, so if nothing else, don't question this team's fight. Alas, NC State is too much down low, as they continue to pound away in the paint and salt this one away.
Final: NC State 88, Stanford 79 They teach you not to bury the lede, so I didn't. Informed by this hard-fought game, my bottom line is atop the piece: Stanford had all the pieces to hang with a top-25 team on its court, and if they could make a few more open threes, they might have won this one outright. Stanford has a deceptively good basketball team – and not just the one Tara VanDerveer coaches. Hopefully Johnny Dawkins' squad will clear up their shooting woes soon enough to realize their full potential.
Ironically, as we write this, Stanford and NC State do their best NBA three-point contest impression, each making a slew of shots late to, if nothing else, pretty up the final stats. Still, our takeaway remains: Make more shots, especially open threes, and Stanford has itself a decent basketball team.
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