It will not get any easier for the Wolfpack.
After Saturday's 93-88 loss to Wake Forest, a three-game home stand where it seemed like NC State needed to win at least two and had a solid shot at all three, ended with only a lone victory. Now at 13-7 overall and 2-5 in the ACC, the Pack is faced with the tough task of trying to regroup.
Where the Wolfpack will be physically in the coming week will be two of the tougher venues in college basketball. Games at Duke and Louisville are not for the meek.
NC State’s mental status might be even more important.
Wake Forest beat the Pack despite shooting nine percent worse from the floor. The Demon Deacons did, however, make the most of NC State's turnovers and their own chances at the free throw line.
"They didn't really score on our set defense," Torin Dorn Jr. said. "They got some offensive rebounds and points off turnovers."
There was no combative comments afterwards. Just the succinct realization that NC State has to get going soon.
"Every team in the ACC is good," Abdul-Malik Abu said after the loss. "We're going into this game with the same focus that we do every game; To execute and follow the plan.
"Any loss is disheartening. This is one we can't dwell on. We have to keep looking forward."
Another issue that plagued NC State in the first half versus the Demon Deacons was foul trouble among its frontcourt. Abu, Omer Yurtseven and BeeJay Anya all had two fouls in the first half and the Wolfpack was made to pay for the fact that separation was not created in in the early stages of the game.
Wake Forest’s John Collins is a talented player with a likely NBA career ahead of him but NC State will get no respite Monday in Durham as Amile Jefferson, who famously picked Duke over the Wolfpack in a recruiting battle that seems like ages ago, has returned from injury. The Blue Devils suffocated Miami in the second half en route to a 12-point home win Saturday.
The good news for NC State is Duke has dealt with its own turmoil although the Blue Devils have not struggled quite as much. There have been injuries, both to players and the head coach, and the exploits of Grayson Allen continue to draw attention -- not that the Blue Devils aren’t used to the eyes of the world being focused on them. Both teams have had to find their way as the influx of players moving in and out of the lineup have forced team development to lag behind.
“It is hard for any team, and I am sure they have some of the same things, in that their young players haven’t played," NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said. "They have had guys in and out because of injuries and Harry [Giles] has missed a lot of games and he is such a great player."
Despite finishing the campaign wit a losing record NC State had success last season against the Blue Devils although the Wolfpack ultimately lost all three matchups. Abu played well in those contests. He needs to reemerge soon.
Prior to his foul woes Sunday, Abu had the range from the floor.
"I was shooting it confidently and it was going," Abu said. "We have to go out there and execute better, take care of the ball better, and the sky is the limit for us."
The Wolfpack gets its chance at Duke Monday night in a place that cause NC State much pain over the years. The ACC is a brutal place for teams searching an identity after starting the season with injuries and suspensions.
"It is hard to get your team developed but you have got to figure it out," Gottfried said. "We have got to figure it out. They have got to figure it out. That is part of the game of basketball."