The shot was the second Wolfpack 3-pointer in a row, cutting a nine-point lead into a three-point margin. But that shot was the last lucky break the Pack would get on Thursday night, as James Johnson hit two consecutive shots and the Demon Deacons hit their free-throws down the stretch to pull out a 85-78 win at Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem.
"We just got down too much at one point," senior Ben McCauley said. "We got it down to two or three there a couple of times but just couldn't pull it out."
Johnson was a dominating force inside for the Deacons, scoring 28 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. The sophomore helped Wake dominate the boards, grabbing 42 rebounds compared to just 27 for the Pack and scoring 18 second-chance points.
"Give him a lot of credit – he held that team together," McCauley said. "He was the glue that held that team together. Usually its [Teague] but Johnson he played a great game on both ends of the floor."
Tracy Smith led the Pack with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Ben McCauley added 12 points and eight rebounds while Farnold Degand came off the bench to score 11 points. Brandon Costner and Dennis Horner also scored in double figures with 10 each while Javi Gonzalez set a season-high with six assists and added eight points.
The Pack is now just 2-7 on the road this year, with its only wins coming against New Orleans and Georgia Tech. Luckily for the Pack it plays its next two game in the friendly confines of the RBC Center before finishing the regular season at Miami.
The loss drops the Pack into a precarious position as it tries to climb the ACC standings. With just five wins, Sidney Lowe's team will have to win out to finish .500 in the league this season. The last time Lowe's team won three straight conference games was during the ACC Tournament in his first season.
"We still have to just take one at a time the way we've been doing," Lowe said. "Just concentrate on going out and playing the way we have been playing and hopefully things will work out in that fashion. Certainly that would be nice to win out."
NC State started the game by working inside to Smith then coming outside to its shooters. The result was 22 points in less than 10 minutes of play, and a three-point advantage thanks to seven straight points from Smith and two 3-pointers from Javi Gonzalez.
The Deacons broke the game with a torrid stretch during the middle of the half, going on a 20-2 run sparked by James Johnson and Ishmael Smith. The streak turned a three-point Pack lead into a 15-point Wake Forest advantage before the Pack picked itself off the mat in the final few minutes. The visitors finishing the half on an 11-4 run of its own to cut the margin back into single digits, 43-35 heading to the locker room.
Wake benefited from an impossibly hot shooting performance for most of the half, shooting over 70 percent before missing a few shots down the stretch to finish at 63 percent. Only a 1-for-7 effort from behind the arc by the Deacons kept the Pack from getting blow out before halftime. The Pack shot a cold by comparison 43 percent, and had just 12 rebounds compared to 21 for Wake.
"We kind of lost the game in that first half when they went on that run," Smith said.
The Pack rallied to start the second half though, with a Farnold Degand drive cutting the Wake lead to 46-44 with 16 minutes remaining in the game. The two teams traded baskets from there, with Degand and Smith both finishing inside the paint consistently while the Pack defense stiffened up, allowing just 11 points in the first nine minutes of the half. But State never could get on a run to take the lead and the Deacons slowly edged ahead, building a nine-point lead with under four minutes remaining that the Pack was unable to rally past.
"I thought our guys hung in there and made a run to get back in the ball game but they had a couple of guys that made some big plays for them," Lowe said.