Rollercoaster Ride

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A rollercoaster will have its ups and down, but no ride at the Fairgrounds reaches the dizzying heights or plunges to the depths that NC State’s basketball season has.

NC State lost to Wake Forest, 88-84, at Lawrence Joel Coliseum on Tuesday in a game that encapsulates the Pack’s season in a tidy 40 minutes. The defeat dropped State to 14-10, 5-6 in the ACC.

The Wolfpack trailed Wake Forest, who entered the game 10-12 overall and 2-7 in conference play, by nine points with 4:20 remaining in the first half. If that seemed bad, the Demon Deacons added to NC State’s misery by closing the half out on a 14-2 run to lead 51-30 at intermission.

Wake Forest twice this season has finished games scoring between 50-60 points. In a loss to Florida, the Demon Deacons only mustered 50 points for the entire game.

There was fight from NC State in the second half. The Wolfpack scored 54 points after the break and, propelled by a 20-2 run, actually cut the Deacs’ lead to five with 4:20 remaining.

However, it was not enough.

NC State head coach Mark Gottfried addressed the wild contrast afterwards. While the veteran coach has seen a lot in his career, he still acknowledges that this team is hard to fathom at times.

“We can be great, and we can be bad,” Gottfried said. “We are kind of all over the board. I have coached a long time now, and I’ve had teams, especially young teams, that do that. The consistent part of the game is tough.

“Even within the game, we can be great and we can be bad.”

After beating Duke in Raleigh on January 11, NC State has lost five of its last seven games. The next top-five team to visit PNC Arena will be No. 3 Virginia on Wednesday, exactly one month after the victory over the Blue Devils.

If ever a team needed a break it would be the Wolfpack. Over the next two weeks, State has only three games with two being at home.

The first two contests, Virginia and a Valentine’s Day clash at Louisville, are against ranked opponents with aspirations of a league and national title. The third is at home versus Virginia Tech. The Hokies, hard-luck losers at Syracuse on Tuesday, would seem like a welcome respite from top-tier league competition. However, if NC State’s losses to Clemson and Wofford, along with its near-defeat at Georgia Tech, have shown anything it is that no game can be taken for granted.

Gottfried and NC State can take solace in the recent explosion from Cat Barber, who finished with 25 points (tied for a career-best) at Wake. Barber was 11-20 from the floor (4-8 from three-point range), four rebounds, four assists, two steals and no turnovers in 39 minutes of action.

In an irony that mirrors the up-and-down nature of the Wolfpack’s plight this year, it is Barber, often hesitant to shoot the ball for most of the season, who has been NC State’s most dependable scorer in the last two games. Once seemingly unsure of himself, he now is a player who permeates confidence from his teammates and coaches when the ball is in his hands.

“I think I am doing a better job of helping my team [by] getting more points,” Barber said. “I did everything [I could] to try to help my team win.”

“[Barber] is playing awfully well,” Gottfried said of his point guard. “He did it the other night, our last game. He is shooting the three with confidence right now.”

The Pack, having finally reached the lull in its schedule, will now look to go forward as it completes its push to a potential postseason appearance.

They are likely not concerned with that right now. NC State will look use this week leading up to Virginia as a chance to rest and improve.

“Don’t worry about this game or any other game,” Barber said when asked about the long-term ramifications of the loss. “I think we just have to get back in the gym and move forward, practice hard and do the little things to come back and be successful.”

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