When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And the North Carolina State Wolfpack men’s basketball team is certainly going, though depending on who you ask, it’s in the wrong direction.
The Pack lost to the Boston College Eagles 74-66 at Conte Forum on Wednesday night in a barn burner, their second consecutive ACC loss and third in their last four games. All three loss have come in conference play, and all three have come on the road.
State also turned the ball over 17 times, allowing BC 23 free points off those giveaways. Despite the Eagles returning the favor with 13 turnovers of their own, State only managed to convert 11 points. They also missed five free throws -- several late in the second half -- that could have changed the dynamic of the final moments.
But at least it wasn’t a 51-point blowout like Sunday’s affair against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
“I was proud of our guys. I’m proud of ‘em tonight,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said after the loss. “I told our team we got better tonight. We took a big step forward. Now we don’t have a win to show for it, and that hurts and I feel bad for our players, but we took a step forward and did a lot of things better.”
But a loss to BC, a less-than-mediocre program which finished 15th in the preseason conference poll? Not many will look positively upon the loss.
“Don’t care,” Gottfried asserted. “Don’t care if you do. I don’t really give a (expletive) if anybody does. We got better tonight.
“We fought through adversity tonight, we defended better, we ran our offense better. We executed much better than we have. We got good shots when we didn’t turn the ball over. A lot of times we didn’t make ‘em. That’s part of the game of basketball. But we executed our offense, got better shots.”
Let’s take a look at a few other notes from Wednesday’s game:
-- Junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, a Boston native, had a rough first half in front of “a lot” of friends and family, missing several putbacks and easy shots and finishing with just two points and three rebounds in the opening 20.
He rebounded in the second half, literally and figuratively, finishing with eight points, 11 rebounds and a block. Entering the game, Abu -- the ACC’s active career leader in double-doubles with 20 -- was averaging a double-double (12.8 points, 10.3 rebounds) over his past four contests. He fell just short of that mark Wednesday.
-- Boston College’s dynamic backcourt duo of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson torched the Wolfpack all night long, combining to score the first 12 points of the game, 23 by halftime, and 43 in total.
Robinson, who entered Wednesday as the ACC’s third-leading scorer, led all scorers with a game-high 24 points. Bowman followed closely behind with 19, and though he scored fewer points than his teammate, it was his buckets -- like a few dagger 3-pointers and an emphatic breakaway dunk in the game’s final minutes -- that really seemed to bury State.
Asked what it was about the duo -- who both reign from North Carolina and weren’t offered a scholarship at NC State -- that made them so difficult to contain Wednesday, Abu focused in on their shooting. Having to tightly guard the perimeter in turn opened up plenty of space for the lightning-quick guards to breeze into the paint and score with relative ease.
But Abu was onto something: On jump shots taken outside the pain, Bowman (3-for-5, all beyond the arc) shot 60 percent, while Robinson (3-for-7, 1-for-2 beyond the arc) shot 43 percent. They combined to shoot 50 percent away from the basket, a lethal mark.
-- Freshmen guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Markell Johnson both briefly left the game with injuries before eventually returning.
Gottfried explained that Johnson suffered a slight separation of his left shoulder, something that’s happened several times already this season. He missed just 2:42 of game time with the injury.
Smith took an inadvertent elbow to the face and hit the ground pretty quickly and was eventually helped off the court with 8:25 left in the game and State trailing 59-56. He returned at the 6:47 mark and played the remainder of the game.