Wildcats hand Pack its first loss, 65-53

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Michael Thompson made several big plays down the stretch and Northwestern held off a late charge from NC State to defeat the Wolfpack 65-53 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

For much of the second half, NC State seemed to be just one big shot away. But every time the Wolfpack let that shot fly it found only the clank of iron and the disappointment of its first loss.

Combined with a poor defensive performance in the first half, the Pack's woeful shooting gave Northwestern all it needed to steal a road win in the opening game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wildcats prevailed with a 65-53 win over the Pack on Monday night at the RBC Center.

"We didn't make shots, if we had made shots we would have had a chance to win," Gonzalez said. "We got good shots, we found the soft spots like we wanted we just didn't knock them down. It wasn't our day today."

The Pack (5-1) couldn't find its shooting touch at any point during the game, hitting just 11 percent of its 3-pointers and seeming to come up empty on every big shot. Scott Wood was 0-for-6, Julius Mays 0-for-3 and CJ Williams 0-for-3. The only person to actually hit a 3-pointer in the game for the Pack was Gonzalez.

"Scott Wood couldn't find his touch today but he's a great shooter," Tracy Smith said. "Javi couldn't find his touch, Julius Mays couldn't find his touch. We just have to learn from this and move on."

Smith again led the way for the Pack offensively, scoring a game-high 23 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the loss. Dennis Horner scored 11 points for the Pack while Gonzalez put together another solid stat line with 10 points, six assists and six rebounds but the point guard shot just 3-of-12 from the field.

"We could never get that one shot that we needed," Smith said. "We could never tie the game or take the lead."

The Pack was unable to generate any kind of offense to start the game, as the Wildcats clogged the middle and made life tough on Smith. The Pack's go-to offensive weapon still managed 11 points in the first half but shot only 4-of-11 from the field and was visibly frustrated at times at Northwestern's aggressive defense, looking at the officials for whistles. Overall, the Pack shot 37 percent but was just 1-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc.

"They were aggressive, they were doing whatever they had to do," Lowe said of the Wildcats. "Instead of getting upset early we waited till later on to really get upset about it and do something about it. It got us going a little bit but I told the guys we can't wait for other people to get us upset and playing we have to establish ourselves early."

But the real problem for the Pack in the first half was the defense. The Wildcats spaced out the Pack, leading to easy lay-ups. The Wildcats hit on 58 percent of its shots in the half and opened up double-digit lead thanks to a 12-2 run midway through the half that propelled Northwestern to a 34-24 lead going into the locker room.

The home team came out with renewed defensive intensity in the second half, forcing 10 turnovers in the half to generate some easy baskets. The defense spurred the Pack's comeback, as a break-away dunk from Smith cut the lead to 53-49 with just under six minutes remaining in the game.

"They started to turn the ball over and we started getting breaks and getting easy baskets because they couldn't get into their zone," Horner said. "We should have been doing that in the first half but we didn't."

But the Pack could never get the one stop they needed to swing the momentum all the way over to its side. Northwestern answered with a pair of free-throws, and the Pack would get as close as five again only to allow a wide-open lay-up to Michael Thompson to put the game away.

"You can't allow the best player to beat you," Lowe said. "Besides not really come out aggressive early, the only other thing I wasn't pleased with was we him come around that ball screen and we didn't do anything about it."

The schedule doesn't get any easier going forward for the Pack, who travel to Marquette later in the week in its first true road test of the season.

"We've just got to rebuild from this and come back stronger," Horner said. "We're gonna get back to practice this week and focus on Marquette."

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