ANN ARBOR, MI — N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried encouraged his team to embrace the challenge of playing on the road against the No. 3 team in the country.
The Wolfpack did on Tuesday, in the aptly named ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but only after falling behind by 15 points in the second half.
The third-ranked Wolverines, with a big game from point guard Trey Burke, hung on for a 79-72 home win over No. 18 N.C. State.
The late rally, especially in contrast to a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State 10 days ago, was enough to salvage a moral victory for Gottfried.
The Wolfpack (4-2) fell behind Oklahoma State by double digits in the second half of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Nov. 18, and rolled over in a 76-56 loss.
On Tuesday, the Wolfpack cut Michigans double-digit lead down to five points twice in the final 90 seconds.
Were a better basketball team today than we were one week ago, Gottfried said. I think they are a legitimate top-3, top-5 team in the country. Our team is not that far off.
Michigan (6-0) got 18 points and 11 assists from Burke and 20 points from sharpshooter Nik Stauskas.
The duo, plus the athletic combination of Glenn Robinson III (11 points) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (16 points), gave the Wolverines a 73-58 lead by the time N.C. State forward Richard Howell fouled out with 5 minutes, 57 seconds left in the game.
Howell, who made six of his seven shots for an efficient 12 points, kept the Wolfpack afloat in the first half when Michigan, which led by as many as 14 in the opening 20 minutes, threatened to run away with the game.
Without Howell, N.C. State made a late charge behind junior forward C.J. Leslie (16 points and 10 rebounds) and freshman forward T.J. Warren (18 points).
Leslie showed the elements of his post game, facing the basket and taking the ball to the rim, that made him one of the best forwards in the country last season.
I liked his aggressiveness, Ill take that every night, Gottfried said.
Leslie scored four straight points to cut Michigans lead into single digits, 73-64 with 4:24 left in the game. Then Warren, making his first start of the season, scored four straight to make it 73-68
After a timeout by Michigan coach John Beilein, Hardaway scored off of a set play to stretch the lead to 75-68 with 1:41 left.
Warren responded with another bucket and guard Lorenzo Brown (10 assists) jumped on a loose ball to give the Pack the ball back, down by five points.
Leslie backed down Michigan forward Mitch McGary in the post but was called for an offensive foul by referee Ted Valentine with 42.6 seconds left.
The N.C. State bench did not like the call, nor the fact that Leslie did not attempt a free throw in the game, despite 17 field-goal attempts.
It came down to a last-minute call, Brown said. We can question the call all we want to but we can never get it back.
The Wolfpack fouled on the ensuing possession and Hardaway hit a free throw to effectively put the game away.
Brown, who criticized the teams effort in last Fridays 82-80 win over UNC-Asheville, said the Wolfpack fought hard. Senior Scott Wood, who finished with 10 points, arrived at the same conclusion as his coach.
If they are the third-best team, I think well be all right, Wood said.