Can State Get Back On Track?

The Wolfpack was flirting with competing for the regular-season championship in the ACC just a couple of weeks ago, but now the team is trying to make sure it doesn't fall into the bottom half of the standings.

The breakdown in the schedule seemed to get the best of the Wolfpack, which lost three consecutive games to nationally ranked opponents before taking a trip to Clemson for a fourth loss in a row.

Now confronted with a season-high four-game losing streak, there are naturally questions about the team's mental outlook. Coach Mark Gottfried said he sees signs that there's still a proper amount of energy within his team despite some dips from time to time.

"We have to understand that we have to have a sense of urgency," senior guard C.J. Williams said.

A degree of confidence remains with the Wolfpack, which will play its regular-season home finale Feb. 29 against Miami. N.C. State has played tight games for stretches with a few of the country's top 10 teams. It's a matter of taking the next step, and defeating other teams in the middle of the ACC standings will be required in order to do that.

"We showed the world we can compete with the best, we just have to get over that hump," forward DeShawn Painter said.

NOTES, QUOTES
-- Much has been made about the limited depth on the Wolfpack's roster and that was evident in the overtime loss to Clemson. Only seven N.C. State players were used, with senior G C.J. Williams logging a team-high 43 minutes. On the flip side, foul trouble that had badgered the Wolfpack in recent games didn't crop up in a severe manner.

-- Coach Mark Gottfried became the third consecutive N.C. State coach to lose in his first game at Clemson on Feb. 25. Further, the first-year coach dropped to 0-3 overall against Clemson as his Alabama teams lost both meetings against the Tigers. After suffering a 72-69 overtime defeat, the Wolfpack is winless at Clemson since a 2005 victory.

-- The Wolfpack has lost three of its last four road games. With four ACC road victories this season, there's only one more chance for N.C. State to add to its road tally. That comes on the last day of the regular season at Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack hasn't had five ACC road victories since 2003-04.

BY THE NUMBERS: 38.5 -- Percentage of free throws made (5 of 13) in the loss at Clemson. The Wolfpack entered the weekend third in ACC free-throw shooting at 73.2 percent.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've made too many of those attempts. So we've got to be a lot better than that." -- coach Mark Gottfried on his often-undersized post players trying to shoot over taller opponents. North Carolina rejected eight Wolfpack shots in the teams' second meeting of the season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Miami, Feb. 29
KEY MATCHUPS:
A strong start helped the Wolfpack win the first meeting between these teams, but there's still the emphasis for N.C. State to keep tabs on Miami's backcourt. This is also a challenge for F Richard Howell, whose foul-prone tendencies could mean trouble against Miami's C Reggie Johnson.

FUTURES MARKET: The Wolfpack's goal of 11 ACC victories has gone by the wayside and now there's simply the issue of finishing above .500 in ACC play. The Wolfpack is 7-7 with two games left and its hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid have dimmed considerable the past couple of weeks.

Certainly these are times when leadership is vital and it would seem that senior G C.J. Williams would be the best candidate to provide that. He has had a breakthrough season and he can't afford anything except a strong finishing kick in order to help put the Wolfpack back on track.

PLAYER NOTES
-- Sophomore G Lorenzo Brown is second in the ACC in assists with 185 entering the week. But his five turnovers at Clemson were a troublesome development.

-- Junior G Scott Wood leads the ACC in free-throw shooting percentage at 91.9 percent entering the week. However, he didn't attempt a free throw Feb. 25 at Clemson. He's averaging slightly above three free-throw attempts per game in ACC games.

-- Sophomore F C.J. Leslie followed his career-best 24-point performance against North Carolina by sharing team scoring honors with 18 points at Clemson. Leslie is averaging nearly 17 points per game for the last eight outings.


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