A Sense Of Urgency

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The soft underbelly of NC State’s conference schedule has given the Wolfpack heartburn. It has also put Mark Gottfried’s team in a familiar position.

NC State fell at home to Clemson, 68-57, on Wednesday.

It was a contest that Wolfpack Nation had hoped would start a run towards clearly establishing itself as a NCAA Tournament team. Instead, it was a defeat that sends the Pack into a two-game road trip teetering on the brink.

"Every game is a sense of urgency,” Gottfried said after the loss. “We have 18 sense-of-urgency games. I’m not sure I feel like our guys came out without a sense of urgency in our game... let’s be clear about that.”

After NC State scored six of the game’s first eight points, Clemson hammered the Wolfpack with a 25-2 run. It sucked the air out of PNC Arena.

For Gottfried, the reaction of his team was more troubling.

"You could see it in guys, in their faces," he said. "They became a little unsure and obviously you can't do that in this league. Clemson played a lot better than we did in the first half."

The Tigers opened up a 23-point lead in the first half and walked into the locker room with a 36-16 advantage... the largest deficit NC State has faced at intermission all season.

Despite its huge lead, Clemson is not a juggernaut that pummels league competition. NC State was bound to show some fight and pride at some point. The second half opened with the Pack immediately making a run to narrow the gap to 13 points with 18 minutes to play.

Ironically, it was a full-court press, something that has given NC State fits this season, that helped the Wolfpack get back in the game. After a dunk by freshman Abdul-Malik Abu, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, State trailed only by three points with 9:19 remaining and was on the cusp of one of the greatest comebacks in school history.

"Maybe at the back of the press we could’ve been better, but the press certainly helped us," Gottfried said. "There’s no doubt about it."

NC State would not get any closer. The Pack stopped scoring and Clemson didn't completely fold.

The next two games are on the road. The Wolfpack will look to end its three-game losing streak in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, who thrashed Miami 70-50 in Coral Gables last night. Then the Pack will make the annual trip to Winston-Salem to face Wake Forest, where State has lost in agonizing fashion in each of the last two seasons.

"In this league there are 18 phenomenal contests," Gottfried said. "You look at Miami and they lost by [28] early in the year to Eastern Kentucky, yet they go on the road and beat Duke and Syracuse. Then they turn around and get beat tonight by Georgia Tech by 20. I can go through every team in the league."

The Wolfpack is halfway through its conference slate. For the third time in the last four seasons, NC State is tracking towards being on the bubble for earning a NCAA Tournament berth. The next few weeks will be critical for the Pack, but they also will not be easy.

"At times what they’ve shown is pretty brilliant," Gottfried said of his team. "We’ve seen that here and there. To be a champion, to be an NCAA tournament team, to win at this level... we’re learning that and tonight we learned a hard lesson. Hopefully we learned it.

"Hopefully our guys understand it, they’re hurting in there. They’re down, and they were really down at halftime. We have to regroup. Nobody outside of our locker room, or Wolfpack Nation, is going to feel sorry for us. They understand that and I tell them all the time. This is a man’s league. For college athletics this is a grown man’s league and you better bring you’re A-game every night."

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