Junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu was dejected as he came out of the locker room after N.C. State’s 93-88 loss to Wake Forest Saturday.
He was quieter than normal. He answered questions with his head down. His team had just lost a close game it could have won, marred by questionable calls that often went the Demon Deacons’ (12-7, 3-4 ACC) way.
The questionable calls weren’t the reason the Wolfpack lost the game, however. The Wolfpack (13-7, 2-5 ACC) at times had mental lapses on defense, and couldn’t contain John Collins’, the Demon Deacons’ 6-10, 235-pound sophomore forward.
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He had 21 points and grabbed five of his teams’ 13 offensive rebounds, which often came on key possessions when the Wolfpack needed a stop.
And Abu, who also couldn’t be denied in the first half, was no where to be found in the second. When Omer Yurtseven, Dennis Smith Jr. and Terry Henderson sat with two fouls in the first half, Abu took it upon himself to be more aggressive. He scored 17 points and was 8 for 11 from the field.
At halftime, the Wolfpack led the Demon Deacons 45-44.
But in the second half Abu barely touched the ball. He took only three shots in the second half, making only one of them. He also hit one free throw.
He finished 9 for 14 from the field with 20 points.
Gottfried couldn’t explain what happened.
“Yeah I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just the way the game is,” he said. “A guy will get really hot and then for whatever reason, maybe they made adjustments, maybe we didn’t give him the ball. Maybe he didn’t make some shots. If you get 18 in one half, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get 36.”
The Demon Deacons led for the majority of the second half, and extended its lead to 9 with 52 seconds left, before the Wolfpack made a quick run that got them within 2.
But it was not enough.
“I think defensively, we’re giving points away at times,” Gottfried said. “We’re not going to shut anybody out, we know that, but we’ve had some mental errors defensively and it seems those add up against us pretty quick.”
The Wolfpack have now lost four out its last five games, with two losses coming at home. Monday it will play a Duke Blue Devils teams that has had struggles of its own since head coach Mike Krzyzewski took a leave of absence after back surgery.
“I’m definitely still confident, I know my guys are,” Abu said. “It just hurts to lose. We’ve got many more games coming up and it’s a lot things we still want to do this season and it’s not over yet.