NC State couldn't keep Dominic James from taking the last shot.
James reversed his dribbled, shook off Farnold Degand, created just enough space to get off an off-balance 3-pointer that rattled home and silenced the crowd at the RBC Center with 0.4 seconds left on the clock. NC State had one last play but Ben McCauley's heave didn't beat the final buzzer and the Wolfpack dropped a heart-breaker to No. 24 Marquette 68-65 on Monday night.
"We didn't want James to get the last shot," head coach Sidney Lowe said. "He came off [the screen] and Ben jumped out there, I think Farnold maybe didn't know Ben was gonna be there, I dunno. Farnold got out of position and he reversed the dribble and he made the shot."
Even before the missed defensive assignment, the Pack (7-2) had its chances to take the lead in its final two possessions. McCauley drew a foul in one possession but missed both free throws, then turned the ball over on the Pack's ensuing possession before the James game-winner.
"We had some costly turnovers – I had one and I'm fully to blame for that," McCauley said. "It's just really frustrating because we didn't do what we were supposed to."
Still, the team showed heart in battling back late in the half. They trailed by six points with under four minutes left before Courtney Fells and Brandon Costner hit back-to-back 3s to tie it back up. Costner was on fire the entire game, hitting 9-of-10 and a perfect 5-of-5 from behind the arc on his way to 24 points and eight rebounds. Fells added 12 points and Tracy Smith scored 10 off the bench.
"We've got to take from this ball game and learn how to win those games," Lowe said. "You can't make mistakes down the stretch."
Marquette's (10-2) trio of experience guards were the entire offense for the Golden Eagles, as James combined with Jerel McNeal and Lazar Hayward to score 54 of the team's 68 points. James scored 18, McNeal led the team with 20 and Hayward added 16 and six rebounds in the win.
"The whole game they were just looking to penetrate and you couldn't sleep for one second," Degand said. "But it was definitely hard and it showed out there with them scoring a bunch of their points."
The Pack played with its full roster for the first time in weeks as both Fells and Javi Gonzalez returned from injuries. Fells played 31 minutes in his return to action while Gonzalez played just two minutes and had two turnovers with no points. Farnold Degand played significant minutes for the first time since opening night, scoring two points in 21 minutes.
"I'm trying to take the brace off as soon as possible," Degand said. "Every day I'm feeling better. I feel 10 times better today than I did at the Lipscomb game it was maybe a little adrenaline tonight. But I feel great and I think I'm starting to get to where I need to be."
Costner came out on fire as the Pack jumped out to an 11-4 lead in which the junior big man hit his first four shots from the field and scored all of the Pack's points. He finished the half with 16 but a halfcourt trap defense from the Golden Eagles got the opposition back in the game. The Eagles used the trap to force 10 first-half turnovers and climb within three points to make it 35-32 at the break. The home team shot 55 percent from the floor and just as well from behind the arc while the Eagles shot under 40 percent and hit just a third of its 3-pointers.
The teams traded baskets for much of the second half before Marquette opened up a six-point advantage and the Pack quickly closed the gap. The Eagles heated up in the second half, hitting 60 percent of its shots and 4-of-7 from 3-point land while committing just 10 turnovers for the game. The Pack will have a week off before its next game against Loyola on the 29th before closing out the year at home against Towson.
"I feel good about our ball club," Lowe said. "I feel good about the way we are playing. Being in this game with this team – a nationally ranked team. I thought our guys fared well, we just didn't win the ball game."