Johnson: 'Awful' Stretches, No Answers

NC State couldn't match Florida State's quickness on Wednesday night, and the Wolfpack's 'awful' start didn't help matters. After six straight losses, there are few explanations for the Pack's consistent collapses.

Lowe calls starter's play 'awful'
Sidney Lowe has always been very careful about criticizing his team in the media, but Wednesday's performance incited his harshest criticism in his brief tenure at the helm.

"Our starters were just awful," Lowe said. "I thought they were awful tonight. They came out and missed a couple of wide open shots and didn't really pick it up on the defensive end and we had to go to the bench."

Lowe didn't use the word later in his press conference, saying he wasn't try to call out his players just 'calling it like you see it,' pointing out that the starters didn't play well. Still, it was a very out-of-character comment for the coach and it is clear that the team's six-game skid is taking its toll.

His assessment of the starter's play in the half was spot on, as a lifeless team gave a lifeless effort and fell behind by nearly 20 points before bench players like Trevor Ferguson and Tracy Smith came in and provided a spark. Still, Lowe refused to say his team wasn't playing with enough pride.

"I'm not going to question anyone's pride. I'm not going to do that," said Lowe. "I was just calling the game as the game was."

No explanations for start
Prolonged stretches of terrible play continue to keep the Wolfpack out of the win column, and in each of the last six losses there are periods of 10 or more minutes where the Pack falls apart. Yet, as the same things continue to happen over and over again, there are still no explanations as to what causes the breakdowns.

"All I can do is apologize to the fans," freshman point guard Marques Johnson said. "I don't know what it is... we aren't playing hard or something."

Ferguson, who led the Pack with 17 points off the bench, was mystified as to how the team could start so poorly at home coming off five straight losses.

"We need to come out ready to play, there's no excuses now," Ferguson said. "The season is almost over. We should be ready to play."

Lowe offered one cause, saying that the team got down on itself early when shots weren't falling, allowing Florida State to pull away because of lackadaisical defensive effort after misses. Lowe also commented that he didn't understand why missing shots would cause his team to fall apart, saying he never gets on guys for missing shots.

"We missed a couple of wide open shots early and we just kind of put our heads down on that," he stated. "We didn't get back and get that stop the way we needed. I think that affected us maybe."

Lack of quickness hurts Pack
The Seminoles ran the same offense all night long, and the Wolfpack could never stop it. Toney Douglas or Jason Rich would handle the ball at the top of the key and receive a high screen, getting into the lane with relative ease or pulling up for the jumper off the screen.

"They have a very good point guard," Lowe said. "It's kind of like when we ran it with Engin. It didn't matter what people did to us he figured out a way to get by it. They have a very good point guard."

The Pack didn't seem to have an answer for either of Florida State's speedy guards, as the two combined to score 41 points on the night. The Pack tried rotating assignments to find someone that could stay with either of them, but no one was quick enough to keep with either of them. The problem was even more apparent in the final minutes of the game, when the Noles could effectively hold the ball for 25 seconds and still get a good shot off because the Pack had no answer for the high screen or simply defending their man off the dribble.

"[Douglas] is definitely a quick guy, and they do a pretty good job of freeing him up," Johnson said.

Smith said the high screens were difficult to defend because the team had to respect the outside shooting of some of the big men setting screens for the guards.

"It was pretty tough considering that Echefu is a good shooter, so we had to rotate and then drop down and leave him open for the 3," Smith said. "We just need to work on it."

On offense, Florida State put a man in front of and behind freshman J.J. Hickson all game, basically double-teaming the Pack's leading scorer before he had a chance to touch the ball. The Pack could have broken down the defense with dribble drives into the lane to force one of the defender's to give help, but none of State's guards could get past the Florida State guards off the dribble. Instead the Pack was forced to shoot over the defense, with limited success.

Florida State knew NC State's personnel. The Seminoles took their chances with the Wolfpack's outside shooting and still doubled Hickson because they knew no Wolfpack defender could beat their trio of Douglas, Rich, and Mims off the dribble. Simple penetration into the lane could have yielded an open shot from the perimeter or a dunk or layup from Hickson when the man fronting him had to help, but without that penetration NC State's offense was stifled.

"What you have to do is be able to make some open shots to pull the defense out," said Lowe. "What they were saying is 'we are going to put one in front, one behind and force you to swing it around and make some open shots.'"

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