Johnson: An Inevitable Collapse

NC State never learned from its first loss of the season, and those problems have manifested into a four-game losing streak that has all but ended the Wolfpack's NCAA hopes.

When NC State lost to New Orleans in the second game of the season, the general consensus was that the game was a fluke. An overconfident team underestimating an inferior opponent and paying for it in the end.

The Wolfpack committed more turnovers and grabbed fewer rebounds than New Orleans that night. The team also got a combined nine points and five turnovers in 41 minutes from the combination of Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner. What was supposedly a fluke was really a preview of the way the Pack would play the rest of the season.

"The thing is the response," Sidney Lowe said. "It's not whether you get knocked down its whether you get up and right now we are just not getting up."

The Pack never really responded to the way they lost that game – the lessons never sank in. Maybe it's because they kept managing to win games through all of November and December, even into the ACC season. A few good breaks in close games combined with some resilient play put the Pack at 4-4 in the league halfway through the season. The Pack played like a bad team, but it won enough games to look like a decent team.

The Pack won, climbing to 15-7, despite having the worst turnover margin, the worst rebounding margin and the worst 3-point defense in the league. It was a house with no foundation, winning by out-shooting teams but not by doing basic things like boxing out or protecting the basketball. Even during its seven-game winning streak before the start of ACC season, the Pack was consistently losing the turnover battle against teams like Western Carolina, Presbyterian and NC Central. If State doesn't hit shots, or its opponent does, then it loses games – a lot of times in blowout fashion.

"At times we look like a very good team," Grant said. "But at times we just have mental lapses and we do things that we aren't supposed to do. It's a shame that coach gets the blame for this because he tells us the things to do and we just aren't doing the right things."

But this team never learned how to do the right things. The mental lapses never stopped. So it should be no surprise that the season has fallen apart so quickly. The Pack is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, with getting back to .500 in league play technically possible but incredibly unlikely.

While the focus has been on the Pack's poor second-half play lately, it also turned in plenty of lackluster first-half showings early in the season. State has spent the whole season either trying to come back from a first-half deficit or letting a first-half lead slip away. The inconsistency has become inexplicable to Sidney Lowe.

"I'm not quite sure why that happened again," Lowe said after the second-half collapse against Carolina.

Now the Pack has to win at least four games in a row to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Either winning out the regular season, or taking four games in four days in the ACC Tournament.

"I'm not a loser, I don't think anyone on this team is a loser," J.J. Hickson said. "It's our turn to get hot."


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