Aside from the 6-minute stretch during the first half when the Orange went on an almost unbelievable 23-0 run, NC State did execute its offense well against Syracuse for much of the game. The Wolfpack remained patient on offense, looked for opportunities inside rather than always settling for jumpers and seemed generally comfortable against a tough scheme being run by a team built to do it.
Lorenzo Brown was especially effective finding guys at the rim and in the mid-range area, dishing out a career-high 14 assists while only turning the ball over three times. If NC State could take out that 6-minute stretch in the first half, it's probably the best the Pack have executed all season offensively.
Prior to Saturday night, NC State's 18-point comeback in the second half against Texas in November had been the most resilient moment of the first month and a half of the season by the Wolfpack. That's no longer the case. Down by as much as 17 in the first half (following Syracuse's 23-0 run) and 14 at the break, it would have been very easy for State to pack it in against the No. 1 team in the country and lost by 25 or more.
But NC State didn't let that happen. The Wolfpack got back on track quickly in the second half, going on a 17-3 run of their own to tie the score at 50 less than five minutes in. Considering how the first half ended, that run might be more impressive than Syracuse's. The grit and fight NC State has shown in tough games is something different under Mark Gottfried, and it's something that will serve the Pack well once ACC play begins.
It's a cliche that many NC State fans roll their eyes at, but Saturday's game was truly one of runs. Syracuse's ripped off 23 straight to take control of the game in the first half, only to have NC State answer with a 17-3 spurt to make it a game again. The Orange closed out the game with another run, outscoring the Pack 25-11 over the last eight and a half minutes.
Looking at the numbers a little closer shows just how well the Pack started each half and just how poorly they finished them. State held a 24-17 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half and trailed by 14 at halftime. The trend continued in the second half, with NC State outscoring 'Cuse 25-16 in the first 10 minutes before getting worn down by a deep and talented Syracuse roster.
For the game, NC State held a 49-33 edge in the first 10 minutes of each half combined. Syracuse owned the last 10 minutes of each half, holding a 55-23 advantage. Mark Gottfried has talked for the last few weeks about NC State needing to put together 40 minutes of consistent effort. It's true, and it's something the Pack will have to figure out before conference play begins. Fast starts and spurts of brilliant play are great, but consistent effort over the course of 40 minutes is what will win games and not leave coachers and players searching for answers.
Much of the discussion following NC State's loss was about how well Syracuse shot from behind the arc. The 11 of 25 performance was impressive and by far the best effort of the season for the Orange, but the Pack's defensive struggles -- especially around the perimeter -- had a lot to do with it.
In the first half especially, when Syracuse hit eight of its 11 three-pointers, NC State players consistently failed to close out on shooters and make shots tougher. The Wolfpack let offensive struggles impact effort and rotation on the other end. Syracuse took advantage, hitting seven of its eight first half three-pointers in the final 9:19 of the half. James Southerland was especially effective, hitting three wide open shots from deep during Syracuse's run.
During Syracuse's second half run, the Orange decided they would take the ball to the basket, once again exposing NC State's perimeter defenders who couldn't keep players like Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine from taking over the game. Jardine and Waiters scored 11 straight points during a key stretch that built Syracuse's lead from two points to 11. Jardine's three-pointer with 6:44 to play made the score 74-63 and acted as the final nail in NC State's coffin.
Turnovers haven't consistently been a major issue for NC State during its first 10 games, and arguably, that was the case again on Saturday. Despite a season-high 19 giveaways, the Pack did a nice job being smart with the ball for much of the evening. The turnover problems worth mentioning from Saturday's loss came during Syracuse's 23-0 run, when NC State gave it away seven times in 12 possessions in just over five and a half minutes.
Ill-timed turnovers, like the ones NC State made once Syracuse heated up from deep, were just as much of a factor in State's loss as anything the Orange did all night. C.J. Leslie had an especially tough five minute stretch, turning it over four times during the 'Cuse run.
For the game, Syracuse finished with a 25-10 edge in points off turnovers.
Syracuse's 46-4 edge in bench scoring was the talk of the post-game press conferences by both coaches, but in reality, it's a bit of a deceiving stat. Brandon Triche and Rakeem Christmas both started for the Orange, but combined for only 19 minutes and just one point. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair came off the bench to play starter-like minutes and combine for 33 of Syracuse's 46 bench points.
Waiters (22 points, 3 assists) tied Jardine for a team-high 32 minutes and at times looked like the best player on the floor. Then there was James Southerland, who scored 11 points off the bench in 18 minutes, including three clutch 3-pointers in the big first half 'Cuse run.
The 46-4 discrepancy in bench points says much more about NC State's reserves than it does Syracuse's. The Pack got nothing from DeShawn Painter or Alex Johnson, two of the guys that will have to play well this season for NC State to consistently win games. Painter, who has played very well at times this season and even started early on, had just two points and one rebound in 10 minutes. Johnson checked in with no points and a turnover in five minutes.
Player Of The Game
C.J. Williams came up huge with a career-high 25 points, but Lorenzo Brown's performance running NC State's offense was just as impressive. Brown finished with a game-high and career-high 13 assists and turned the ball over just three times. He also scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds.
Brown was responsible for several of the good mid-range looks Williams got at the basket because of his ability to direct player to the right spots against Syracuse's zone. Saturday's performance was Brown's best of the season and shows what can happen as he becomes more comfortable at the point guard position.
Gottfried on Syracuse:
"Again, let me say this, they're pretty good now. I've been around a lot of good teams and that team right there might be playing on Monday night in April. We did a lot of good things tonight, we just didn't do enough."