But one description of the Pack's nightmarish 63-45 loss to St. John's last night at Madison Square Garden won't be accurate: It wasn't a clunker, an aberration, a bad day, a bump in the road or a one-game hiccup. In reality, it was a continuation of a stretch when the Wolfpack has simply played bad basketball.
In its first seven games, the Pack limited opponents to 36 percent (142-394) from the field and 27.8 percent (32-115) from three-point land, giving up just 55.1 points per game and outrebounding the opposition, 39.3 to 33.9.
In the five contests since, the Wolfpack is allowing foes to shoot 44.6 percent (125-28) from the floor and 38 percent (27-71) from beyond the arc, and has been outrebounded, 170-202. State gave up an average of 66.8 points in those games, going 3-2.
Through the Liberty game on Dec. 11, NC State shot 51.2 percent (218-426) from the field and 38.7 percent (65-168), scoring 84.6 points per game and committing only 11 turnovers per contest. In the five games following that game, the Wolfpack hit 40.2 percent (115-286) from the floor and 25 percent (29-116) from three, scoring 68.4 points per contest and committing an average of 14 turnovers per game.
To be fair, four of those contests have come on the road, but the Pack struggled at home against Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 15, surrendering 37 points to someone named Tiras Wade; being pounded on the boards, 42-25; and eking out a six-point win, 78-72. Four days later, at Washington, State shot just 40.6 percent from the floor and were again outrebounded, 43-34, losing by four points, 68-64. On Dec. 21 at BYU, the Wolfpack opened up a 40-18 halftime lead, but had to hold on to win, 72-61.
At the Holiday Festival in New York, NC State allowed Columbia to shoot 54.2 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from three-point range and once again struggled to put its foe away, winning by just 10, 84-74. Two days later, the wheels came off, with the Pack shooting 20 percent from the field and 8.3 percent from beyond the arc, committing 19 turnovers on the way to an 18-point hammering.
Viewed in the light of recent performances, NC State's outing was an end result of a stretch of subpar play. When there are 13 minutes left in a game against a vastly inferior opponent and Herb Sendek has as many technical fouls as his team does two-point field goals, it represents a new brand of ineptitude. Hahn repeatedly said that there was a "lid on the basket," making late bids for understatement of the year honors. Even redshirt junior Ilian Evtimov called the Pack's performance "selfish" and "impatient."
"We were horrible. There's no two ways about it," Sendek. "We were just absolutely horrendous. We just didn't have it in any way, shape or form. I've never seen anything like that.
"We were just so out of it."
The crisp ball movement evident early in the season has been missing for many games, but the Pack was repeatedly beaten to loose balls and appeared to lack effort at times, unheard-of for a Sendek-coached team. You can question why a sick Tony Bethel played so often or why it took so long to give freshman Cedric Simmons a shot, but those are short-term questions. In the long term, dangerous holes are appearing in the Pack rotation. Bethel has struggled mightily after a fast start. Senior Levi Watkins is playing with very little confidence, scoring a combined 10 points in the past five games. Evtimov still looks to be rounding into shape and laboring hard on his battered knees. Senior Jordan Collins isn't getting the ball in the low post like he did early in the campaign.
In many respects, Sendek threw down the gauntlet following the game. In a postgame interview, he maintained that the preparation was fine, but it was up to the players to respond and execute. Following that exchange, Hahn struggled to live up to a sponsor's request for the NC State play of the game.
"There really were no highlights in this game," mumbled Hahn.
The Wolfpack will be searching high and low, far and wide for any highlights on Sunday, when a surprisingly strong, undefeated West Virginia (9-0) team visits the RBC Center. Many eyes will be looking on intently to see if the Pack can put a dismal five-game span behind it and get back to playing fluid offense and stifling defense with conference play approaching quickly.