Locking Up The Orange
NC State did an outstanding job of defending Syracuse... virtually all game.
The Pack limited dribble penetration, tightly guarded sharpshooter Trevor Cooney, and competed with the Orange on the glass.
It also helps when T.J. Warren locks up C.J. Fair the way that he did, holding Fair to 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field.
Overall the Cuse hit just 19-of-54 shots from the field and were 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
"We defended them really well," said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. "They shot 35% from the field. I just thought we did a nice job there."
Attacking The Zone
NC State didn't shoot a great percentage, but they still manged to do a good job against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone.
The Wolfpack attacked it in a variety of ways. They looked to get Ralston Turner involved from behind the three-point line. Kyle Washington was able to generate scoring from the high-post. Jordan Vandenberg did a terrific job of screening and being a facilitator from the high-post and baseline. T.J. Warren... he did his damage mostly around the rim, either cutting to the basket or on offensive putbacks.
The key may have been the play of point guard Tyler Lewis. The 5'11 sophomore didn't hit a shot from the field, but he finished the game with six assists and zero turnovers against a Cuse defense that thrives on generating steals at the top of the key.
NC State finished the game with 12 assists on 22 made baskets and just ten turnovers.
"Tyler was excellent," said Gottfried. "He played without turning the ball over and executed some sets that we wanted to run against the zone really well. He got the ball to the right guys in key places."
Embracing The Environment
To be completely honest, NC State came up small in the two toughest road games leading into this one, Duke and North Carolina.
It could have been easy for NC State to do the same against the nation's No. 1 team, a squad that defends well, has scorers at multiple positions, and plays in a Dome that can create a raucous atmosphere.
However, NC State didn't do that. They went right at the Orange from the opening tip. The Wolfpack competed on the glass, answered when Syracuse made their runs, and never let the game get away from them.
They played with a confidence that you like to see from a team that had won five of six games.
"I'm really proud of our team," Gottfried stated. "We're growing up. There is no question about it."
NC State should have had a lead at halftime instead of being tied at 26.
The Wolfpack hit just 3-of-10 free throws in the first half, while the Cuse attempted just three (making two). T.J. Warren and Ralston Turner hit just 1-of-6 attempts with Desmond Lee and Lennard Freeman each splitting their two attempts.
NC State did manage to hit all four in the second half, but in a one-point loss they have to look back at those missed opportunities in the first half.
It's been talked about enough already, but the second-half officiating really seemed to negatively impact NC State more than Syracuse.
The Wolfpack committed 15 fouls in the second half to just six for the Cuse. Several of those State fouls were off-the-ball calls that ended with the Orange attempting free throws instead of shots.
The call being debated the most came in the final seconds. NC State executed an inbounds play that had T.J. Warren breaking free behind the defense. Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney grabbed Warren, who was picking up his dribble to attempt a shot. Warren made the layup, but the basket was waved off by official Mike Stuart, who called the foul on the floor. Warren didn't even get to attempt a free throw because NC State had yet to reach the bonus, and on the next play the Wolfpack turned the ball over.
Gottfried expressed his displeasure with the call following the game.
"I watched the tape, and I'm disappointed there when we had the lead on T.J.'s foul," he said. "That was a made basket. That should have counted. He was in his shooting motion. That's frustrating because that changes everything in the last twenty seconds. He was certainly into his shooting motion.
"The game just comes down to a play here or a play there. Certainly with T.J.'s basket, if it counts that changes a lot there at the end of the game."
Handling The Pressure
Even with the subjective officiating, NC State still had chances to close out the game, but they couldn't make enough plays in the final seconds.
Desmond Lee dribbled the ball off his foot. Tyler Lewis was forced to call a timeout after being trapped at midcourt. Ralston Turner missed T.J. Warren open under the basket on the final inbounds play. Cat Barber made perhaps the most critical error, forcing an errant pass that led to C.J. Fair's game-winning layup instead of stepping through the trap and drawing a foul.
"We made critical errors," said Gottfried. "We turned the ball over late. We can't do that.
We've got a one-point lead knowing they are going to foul. We have to step through a trap. We made some errors, there is no doubt about it."
NC State blew a chance to pick up a huge, huge road win against the nation's No. 1 ranked team.
+/- is essentially the points scored by a team minus the points allowed by a team while a certain player is on the floor.
So, as you can see below, Jordan Vandenberg had a +/- of +8. That means NC State outscored Syracuse by 8 points with Vandenberg on the floor. Lennard Freeman was -6... State was outscored by 6 points when Freeman was on the floor.
Jordan Vandenberg: +8
T.J. Warren: +4
BeeJay Anya: 0
Tyler Lewis: 0
Kyle Washington: -1
Desmond Lee: -3
Cat Barber: -3
Ralston Turner: -4
Lennard Freeman: -6
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kyle Washington was terrific.
The Wolfpack freshman forward recorded his first-career double-double, totaling 14 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting from the field.
"Kyle played really well," said Gottfried. "He made some big shots, played aggressive, made some jumpshots, back-to-the-basket moves. Rebounded the ball really well. For a freshman to come in here and do what he did, it was impressive."
STAT OF THE GAME
NC State defended Syracuse extremely well all game, but they were unable to overcome the Orange's decided advantage from the free throw line, particularly in the second half.
Syracuse hit 14-of-19 free throws in the second half. NC State made all four of their attempts, but that 10-point advantage from the line was critical in a one-point game.
"We got into foul trouble," said Gottfried. "There were a lot of fouls. I looked up there and it was 10-2. They recognized that. They were in the double bonus early.
"We were putting them on the foul line for two shots every time. Our foul trouble started to mount and it made it difficult."
"It's disappointing. We came here to win. We didn't come here to lose by one point and feel good about ourselves getting on the plane. That's not why we came up here. We came here to win and we had a chance but we didn't get it done.
"We're getting better. We have to go on the road Tuesday night at Clemson. It's going to be a hard-fought game. We know that."