DAYTON, Ohio — Mark Gottfried and his North Carolina State men’s basketball team fielded several questions about the final few minutes of their 76-72 loss to Temple on Friday.
After a furious second-half comeback, the Wolfpack cut it to three with 17 seconds left, but the No. 9 Owls held on to end the No. 8 Wolfpack’s season.
Gottfried’s squad likely wouldn’t have needed such a second-half effort had either its offense or defense shown up in the first half.
“They showed they wanted it more than us early on,” freshman guard Rodney Purvis said. “We made a run in the second half, but I feel we dug ourselves in the hole too early, and they had the ball going in the first half. It’s easy to close the game out after that.”
Temple took a 12-4 lead that prompted Gottfried to call a timeout before the TV break. The Pack climbed back and tied the score at 15 eight minutes in.
Then, turnovers, slack defensive rotations and poor decisions on offense helped fuel Temple’s 18-3 run in the following five-plus minutes.
Temple’s Khalif Wyatt, who finished with a game-high 31 points, scored six in that stretch via three fastbreak layups. His final bucket in that run came on a bad pass from Tyler Lewis that was picked off by T.J. DiLeo and taken by Wyatt for the uncontested finish.
Junior guard Lorenzo Brown admitted after the game that while the Owls made shots, the Wolfpack’s defense lagged. It struggled to rotate, sometimes leaving Temple players open on the perimeter. The Owls made 7 of 18 3-pointers.
“We didn’t do very well (on defense in the first half), and everybody in the room will admit it,” senior forward Scott Wood said. “It’s one of those things where you have to come out with better energy and intensity and you can’t give them those easy ones.”
The Owls made 7 of 9 shots during the decisive run while the Pack was just 1-for-4 from the floor and the free-throw line to go along with four turnovers.
State’s problem wasn’t so much its inability to score — it shot 40 percent — but its inconsistent ball handling, Gottfried said. The Wolfpack committed 10 turnovers in the first half on 33 possessions, which the Owls turned into 15 points.
Credit Temple’s defense for some of the Pack’s problems.
The Owls chased sharpshooter Scott Wood through and around screens. Wood missed his first four 3-point attempts, including one that would have drawn the Pack within five points midway through the second half. Wood finished 2 of 6 after making 16 3s in three games in the ACC tournament.
Lorenzo Brown made just 1 of 6 of his 3-point attempts for the Pack, which made just four 3s. In seven of the Pack’s 11 losses, they made four or fewer 3-pointers.
“I thought our defense was the key to all of that,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “They didn’t score a lot of points in the first half. Obviously, they scored a ton in the second half, but I thought defensively we were aggressive, we were getting to the rights spots, and they turned it a few times.”
Three State players had three turnovers each, and the Wolfpack finished with 13. But the team had only itself to blame for its inability to take care of the ball in the early going.
“I think it was just us,” Brown said. “Careless… careless. It happens, so, nothing we can do about it now.”