In a shocking upset, 14th-ranked NC State was outplayed, outmuscled, and outhustled by a recently resurgent Seton Hall squad. The 11-6 Pirates, who came into the matchup off of three consecutive close conference losses before topping South Florida 94-89 in overtime, toppled NC State in convincing fashion, 83-65.
The Pirates led the whole game, dominating the paint throughout and matching every Wolfpack rally with a run of its own. Seton Hall set the tone in the first half, outrebounding the Pack 22-8, even compiling more offensive rebounds, 10, than NC State's first-half rebounding total. The Pirate's prowess on the boards in the first half earned the team 12 more shot attempts than the Pack, who only attempted 22 shots, compared to Seton Hall's 34.
Seton Hall quieted the Wolfpack faithful by building a 28-11 lead with 5:30 remaining in the half. However, much like last week's slow starting victory against Wake Forest, NC State rallied, scoring 18 points in the final five minutes.
But the Pack could not slow the Seton Hall offense. The athletic Pirates softened the Wolfpack defense by beating defenders off the dribble and attacking the lane to loft short jumpers over shotblockers Cedric Simmons and Andrew Brackman, rather than driving all the way to the hoop and forcing contact. Seton Hall did not shot a free throw until 1:09 remaining in the first half. The Pack would finish the half down 40-27.
"They beat us with the dribble penetration and got easy shots, and when they did miss, we did not do a good job on the defensive glass," said NC State coach Herb Sendek.
Also unlike NC State's victory against Wake Forest, the Pack failed to come out strong to open the second half, as they watched the Pirates open with a 14-3 run to extend their lead to 54-30 with 16:12 to go. Not even a rare Herb Sendek technical, called by referee Karl Hess during the run, could stall Seton Hall's momentum.
However, the Pack would pick up the pace, applying full-court pressure and pushing the break to claw within 16 points with 6:37 to go. But over the next four minutes a series of Wolfpack fouls put the Pirates on the line 16 consecutive times, and the Pirates converted all 16 shots, preventing the Pack from getting any closer. The Pirates would finish the last 6:37 by hitting 18-of-20 free throws - and not one field goal.
Coach Sendek could find little positive to take away from the loss.
"They dominated everything, it was a good, thorough whipping," said Sendek. "Our halfcourt defense was poor, our halfcourt offense was poor, our first-half effort was poor, our rebounding was poor, and if you want another adjective, then go ahead. They were outstanding, and we were not."
Tony Bethel did his best to pull the Pack into the game, hitting 4-of-10 three-pointers, many of which were contested, to total 15 points. Ilian Evtimov broke out of his recent slump, making 5-of-8 shots, but had four turnovers. More notable for the Pack, perhaps, was the fact that Engin Atsur had three turnovers and went scoreless in 32 minutes, missing all five of his shots.
For the Pirates, senior point guard Donald Copeland went 15-of-16 from the line on his way to totaling a game-high 22 points to go with six rebounds, and was aided by fellow senior Kelly Whitney, who hit 7-of-10 shots to total 17 points. The Pirates shot 47.3% for the game, compared to the Wolfpack's 37.5 percentage. The Pack's 83-65 loss to the Pirates is the worst loss to a non-conference opponent at home in Sendek's tenure at NC State.
Up next for NC State is a tough road test at Clemson, where the Pack has recently engaged in many tight and hard-fought games. Coach Sendek knows his team must bounce back.
"Our guys battled in the second half and we just came up short in every way tonight. It is a long season and you must have the capacity to get back up off the mat and fight another day."