Two guys with SEC backgrounds stepped into the foreground Wednesday night in Raleigh, leading the Wolfpack to an 83-72 defeat of the Big Orange.
LSU transfer Ralston Turner scored a career-high 33 points and Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey added 20 as the Wolfpack improved to 9-2. Turner drained 9 of 18 shots, including 8 of 17 from 3-point range. Lacey hit 6 of 8 shots, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
“N.C. State made some tough, tough shots, a couple really deep in the shot clock,” first-year Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said on the post-game show. “Give them credit: I thought we were there. On the eleven 3s that they made, probably eight of them were pretty contested.”
Josh Richardson, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half Sunday against Butler, again finished with a flourish; he recorded 13 of his 17 against the Wolfpack after intermission. The senior point guard made 7 of 13 shots and also contributed 5 assists for the Vols, now 4-4. Armani Moore and Kevin Punter chipped in 14 points each. Devon Baulkman gave Tennessee four starters in double figures by adding 10 points.
Although the Vols had no answer for Turner or Lacey, they made the game interesting with a 13-1 second-half explosion that chopped a 38-55 deficit to 51-56 with 8:29 remaining.
“The biggest thing during that stretch was that we were able to make them miss,” Tyndall said. “We didn’t give up second shots. The first half we gave up second- and third-shot opportunities, which just kill you.
“We rebounded the ball during that (comeback) stretch. When our team is in the open floor we’re pretty effective. When we have to grind it out in the halfcourt – when we don’t really have a post scorer and that natural point guard to make everything easy – it’s a tough, grind-it-out slugfest every possession.”
Lacey nailed a clutch 3-pointer just before the shot-clock buzzer that widened the gap to 72-62 with 1:50 left but Detrick Mostella hit a 3-pointer and Moore scored on a three-point play as the Vols closed within six points (74-68) with 1:19 to play. Tennessee had a chance to cut further into the lead but Richardson missed a 3-pointer and Moore rimmed out a layup. The Wolfpack hit nine of 10 foul shots thereafter to put the game on ice.
Tyndall praised his team, noting that the Vols “really competed, right till the final buzzer. We didn’t play flawlessly by any stretch but I thought we did compete.”
Tennessee shot a sizzling 55.6 percent (10 of 18) from 3-point range but made just 15 of 42 shots inside the arc, finishing 25 of 60 overall for a 41.7 percent success rate. The Vols committed just 5 turnovers but lost the backboards 36-27 and were outscored by 14 points at the free-throw line. Tennessee made 12 of 16 foul shots, N.C. State 26 of 34.
The Wolfpack’s veteran guards did an excellent job attacking Tennessee’s fullcourt press and 1-3-1 zone. As a result, the hosts shot 51.1 percent (23 of 45) from the field and committed just 10 turnovers.
Tennessee started strongly and led 14-10 nine minutes into the game. Four Turner 3-pointers sparked an 18-8 N.C. State rally, however, that put the home team on top 28-22. A Derek Reese 3-pointer from the key pulled Tennessee within 30-27 but the Wolfpack scored the final nine points of the half to take a 39-27 lead to the locker room.
Ultimately, a youthful Vol squad playing its first road game simply lacked the firepower and the poise to spring the upset.
“The home crowd gets into the game, our guys get a little bit rattled, they get sped up,” Tyndall said. “We had seven newcomers that are playing their first true road game in Division 1 basketball, so there’s going to be some learning curve there, and there’s going to be some bumps along the way.
“That doesn’t make it all right but that’s the reality.”
Tennessee returns to action Friday night, hosting Tennessee Tech in a 7:05 tipoff.