When State was able to get into a halfcourt offense, they did a terrific job of creating open shots and knocking them down. In the first half, the Pack jumped out to an early advantage behind the frontcourt scoring of Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley.
"We were executing and just finding the open man," said NC State head coach Sidney Lowe.
The turning point came late in the first half. Following a McCauley jumper and two free throws from Dennis Horner, the Pack led 33-26 with 1:46 remaining and seemed to be in complete control of the game. State would have two turnovers and Cincy got a jumper from Cedric McGowan and a breakaway layup from Vaughn in the final seconds to cut the lead to 33-30 and set the tone for the second half.
"That was huge," Lowe said of the late run by Cincinnati. "That was one of those turnovers during that time. We had some guys that didn't come to play. They hurt us when we had them in the ballgame."
The Pack shot 65% in the first 20 minutes, but also totaled 16 turnovers that yielded 14 points for the Bearcats.
The teams traded baskets early in the second half, and after a Costner dunk the Pack led 39-34. The Bearcats would then seize control of the game. Cincy's 19-5 run over the next nine minutes gave the home team a 53-44 advantage. During the span the Pack went four minutes without even attempting a shot, as turnovers continued to prevent State from getting into any offensive sets.
"For whatever reason, we had a couple of guys who just refused to pass the basketball," said Lowe. "That's not how you play the game. We just did not play smart. We didn't play smart at all."
State would battle back, as six straight points cut the lead to 53-50 after a jumper from Courtney Fells. Two minutes later a jumper from McCauley pulled the Pack within two at 56-54, but State would never get any closer. A late 9-1 run by the Bearcats sealed the win, as Cincinnati's 80-71 victory improved their record to 8-3. State fell to 7-4, and is now 2-4 without Atsur in the lineup.
The Pack shot 57% for the game, but making shots was never the problem. State's 32 turnovers led to an astounding 32 Bearcat points. Although the Pack outrebounded Cincy 37-28, they couldn't overcome the +23 point advantage off turnovers.
"That was really the ballgame right there," said a frustrated Sidney Lowe. "We just would not pass the basketball. We had guys wide open, and we had players trying to create for themselves.
"We killed ourselves with what I would call unforced turnovers. We tried to do too much. Whenever we just passed the ball ahead and found the open man... we got into our offense."
After totaling 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting against a tough Alabama frontcourt, Ben McCauley was again oustanding. He knocked down 9-of-11 shots to finish with 22 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Costner added 14 points and seven rebounds, and Fells finished with 13 points and a team-high eight boards. Freshman Dennis Horner, who started his first game for the Wolfpack, chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds. Gavin Grant again struggled with his shot, as he hit just 3-of-8 to total eight points. Grant and Costner combined for 17 turnovers, with Grant recording ten.
Vaughn was sensational for Cincinnati. The burly shooting guard drilled four 3-pointers right out of the gate and finished with 25 points, nine assists, and a game-high six steals. McGowan added 15, and John Williamson chipped in 13 as Cincinnati shot 45% from the field.
With three nonconference games remaining before the ACC schedule really begins, NC State has to bounce back and finish strong. Having Engin Atsur back would certainly help in a lot of ways.