Mark Gottfried got angry and the N.C. State players got the message.
Gottfried wanted more toughness and more defense after a third straight ACC loss on Sunday. There was definitely more of the former and just enough of the latter to pull out a 79-74 win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Sophomore guard Maverick Rowan scored 21 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:51 left, and freshman forward Omer Yurtseven contributed 12 points and 16 rebounds to push the Wolfpack (13-6) to 2-4 in ACC play.
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The Wolfpack was tougher and better on defense, especially in the final 8 minutes.
“This was a good, important game for us,” Gottfried said. “It’s a process in learning how to win and what you have to do to win at this level,” Gottfried said.
Gottfried noted the team fell behind by seven points in the second half but was able come back and end its three-game ACC losing streak.
The Panthers (12-6, 1-5) started the second half nearly unconscious, making 13 of their first 17 shots. Senior forward Michael Young (25 points) made quick work of the Wolfpack’s 2-3 zone, finding soft spots on the wing.
The Panthers made 6 of their first 10 3-pointers in the second half. An uncontested 3-pointer by sophomore guard Cameron Johnson gave the Panthers a 67-60 lead at 9:13.
But Yurtseven sandwiched two key buckets around five straight points from senior guard Terry Henderson (21 points) and then Rowan made a 3 at 3:51 to put the Wolfpack up 72-71.
The Wolfpack got a key defensive stand, with freshman guard Markell Johnson causing a turnover on an errant pass. Two late fouls by N.C. State, with the lead, allowed Pitt a chance to tie the game in the final seconds but Cameron Johnson missed a 3 and Henderson was fouled when he went after the rebound.
Henderson made both free throws with 2.3 seconds left to put the game away.
N.C. State certainly came out tougher and more aggressive, as Gottfried had hoped after he scolded his team following Sunday’s 86-76 loss to Georgia Tech. A steal and thunderous dunk by Dennis Smith Jr. at 12:23 gave N.C. State a 15-7 lead.
“We were completely different than we were a couple of nights ago,” Gottfried said.
Yurtseven had nine rebounds in the game’s first 8 minutes and Pitt looked like it had been watching defensive instructional videos by N.C. State.
But the Panthers dropped into a zone, forced some empty possessions and started to find their own groove from 3. A 10-2 run tied the game at 17 at the 8:56 mark and the teams traded punches from there.
Foul trouble to forwards Abdul-Malik Abu (three in the first half), BeeJay Anya and Yurtseven limited N.C. State’s ability to get into the middle of Pitt’s zone.
Henderson had 11 points at the half but Smith only had four, going 0 for 4 from the 3-point line. Smith did convert an alley-oop from Johnson with 48.1 left in the half to give the Wolfpack a 35-34 lead at the break.
Despite the result, and how the team responded, Gottfried said there wasn’t a magic wand or anything particularly complex about what he told his players between Sunday’s difficult loss and Tuesday’s bounce-back win.
“You know, this is not highly, highly complicated stuff here,” Gottfried said. “If you play hard, and you get in your stance and really, really defend and you execute and move the ball offensively, usually good things happen.”
And good things did happen on Tuesday for N.C. State.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio