RALEIGH — The opposing coaches needed only one sentence each to sum up N.C. States closer-than-expected 82-80 win over UNC-Asheville on Friday night.
"We let this one get away," UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said.
"Weve got to be better," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
No. 16 N.C. State avoided another disappointing and disastrous loss with 23 points and 15 rebounds from senior forward Richard Howell.
Coming off of a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State on Sunday in Puerto Rico, Howell expected a more focused and better effort from the Wolfpack. Instead of resounding response to the Puerto Rico debacle, the Wolfpack (4-1) couldnt find high gear, or take command of the game, until the final minutes.
"We should have come out with the same type of energy we had in the last six minutes of the game," Howell said. "If we played like that, I feel like it wouldnt have been a ball game."
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, who called his teams play "casual" against Oklahoma State, said the Pack was "trying too hard early" on Friday.
"We were so wound up and then they played pretty good," Gottfried said. "Now, all of the sudden, youre in a grinder."
The Bulldogs (1-5) were the aggressor, taking the fight to N.C. State, which turned the ball over 19 times and struggled with its perimeter defense. Guard Jeremy Atkinson scored 28 points and guard Keith Hornsby added 23 for UNC-Asheville, which led by as many as seven points in the second half.
Junior guard Lorenzo Brown (18 points, four assists) disagreed with his coachs assessment of the start of the game, which had the Wolfpack down 37-34 at the half.
"Guys were being lazy," Brown said. "There wasnt any intensity coming out toward the game. Our whole goal was to come out make a statement after last time, but there were a lot of guys on our team being lethargic."
Instead of a statement, there was a scramble. Howell scored three points on a key five-point possession with 3:06 left in the game.
Howell made a short 8-foot jumper while being wrapped up by UNCA guard Trent Meyer. Howell made one of two free throws to put N.C. State up 71-69.
"Luckily, Richard saved us tonight," N.C. State guard Scott Wood (14 points) said.
N.C. State got the ball after Meyers intentional foul and Wood knocked down a long 2-pointer after a set play to extend the Wolfpacks lead to 73-69.
The pesky Bulldogs would not go away. Meyer responded with a 3, which was followed by six straight points by N.C. State.
Hornsby hit one of his four 3-pointers to cut the Packs lead to 79-75 with 22.4 seconds left. After Brown made one of two free throws, Hornsby had a three-point play to make it 80-78 with 16.5 seconds left.
Howell, who made five his first nine free throws, knocked down both of free throws with 5 seconds left to seal the win.
Howell had been alternating free thrown makes with misses all game, as he did after the intentional foul by Meyer. He thought about that pattern when he walked to the line with 5 seconds left.
"I dont know whats going on with my free throws," Howell said. "Im glad I just stuck with it and it went through."
After the game, the Wolfpack players were happier to be answering questions about a win than a loss, but there was still an unsettling feeling.
"Were not satisfied with this type of win," Howell said.