It takes quite a bit to get lower than a 51-point loss to an archrival but digging down to reach the deepest of depths is one of the few things NC State is doing with aplomb this season.
The Wolfpack meekly fell to Wake Forest Saturday in a 30-point drubbing that accentuated that the Demon Deacons are no North Carolina. If Wake had McDonald’s All-Americans on the bench like the Tar Heels do, NC State could have easily had another epic defeat to deal with. It ended up being historic regardless.
As it is, the Pack -- which earlier his season actually beat Duke in Durham for the first time in 22 years-- has two blowout road losses to Big Four schools that had media members scrambling feverishly through the record books to see how long it had been since NC State had lost this badly to its neighbors.
To put it mildly, almost everyone on the planet was not alive when the Wolfpack suffered a worse loss in Chapel Hill. Meanwhile, Wake Forest has never beaten the Pack by more points at home than it did Saturday.
The win at Duke, a stunning development any year, looks even more inexplicable now. It takes something ridiculous to negate a win in Cameron Indoor Stadium but the thrashings the Wolfpack has endured at North Carolina and Wake Forest do the trick.
NC State has played five games since the magical triumph at Duke. The Wolfpack has lost all them and looked awful in the process.
Losing at Wake Forest is not cause for utter shame -- NC State has now dropped five straight in Winston-Salem -- but the manner in which the Wolfpack capitulated can only be described as embarrassing.
In a game that could have vaulted the team to a late-season run it instead may be the nadir of an awful display. NC State had no life nor any fight. The Wolfpack seemed resigned to its fate instead of seeking to gain control of it.
With North Carolina coming to Raleigh midweek there is little indication that NC State will find its way out of the malaise that has engulfed the Pack. At this point it would probably be less shocking if things got worse.
How much of NC State’s plight is due to the coaching of Mark Gottfried is supposition in one regard, but ultimately it is his responsibility regardless of how much he is actually to blame. That is how it works. He knows it. All coaches understand it. If they do not, then they need to find another line of work.
It is the coach's fault even when it is not the coach's fault.
Gottfried will take some blame, and he should, but the players share in this disaster as well.
The issues are ubiquitous. Whereas last season Wolfpack seemed a player or two short of consistent success now NC State just appears lost. No one is immune to criticism.
Defensively, the Wolfpack is in shambles. At times a lack of success on one end of the court can carry over to the other side but NC State has issues stopping opposition even when they do score regularly. There has been more than one loss this season where the team shot over 50 percent in the game -- and that includes the first defeat to the Demon Deacons in Raleigh.
When the offense does struggle, as it did mightily against a Wake Forest squad that appears to at best be a NIT team, the Pack will get throttled -- which has happened often this season, especially of late.
Wake’s Keyshawn Woods afterwards uttered the four-letter word that will get plenty of attention and be a dagger in the heart of the Wolfpack. In all honesty, it does not matter which Deacon player said that NC State would quit when they got down. Basketball is not an individual sport. Once it was said, it became the words of the entire team.
Wake Forest called the Wolfpack quitters. Gottfried and the players will disagree but others will look at relative ease with which the Demon Deacons broke them down and feel that is sufficient evidence. If NC State wants to prove that assertion wrong the burden of proof will rest squarely on themselves.
There was a point in life where each player and coach dreamt of being at the spot they currently reside. They had chances to fulfill their goals at several places but specifically chose NC State.
This is what they worked their entire lives for. This is the place they wanted to be. It is the challenge they accepted. They opted to represent NC State.
There are five regular season games remaining for the Wolfpack.
While no reasonable person will question if the Pack cares, the effort and precision over the next five games has to be better than the previous five for several reasons.
It is five chances for NC State to take a stand. It is five opportunities for the Wolfpack to prove just how important the journey is to them. It is where they can show others that, in fact, they do not quit and anyone inferring otherwise is sorely mistaken.
They cannot run from the situation. It is their doing that got them here and only they can get themselves out of it.
If they do not embrace the dream they have long sought, the nightmare is destined to continue.