What had been a feel-good week for N.C. State basketball and Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried took an unexpected turn Friday.
The Pack, playing its season opener at PNC Arena, was thumped 85-68 by William & Mary in a game the poised, experienced Tribe led nearly start to finish.
The Wolfpack celebrated the signing Wednesday of Dennis Smith of Fayetteville, one of the nation’s best point guards. On Friday, N.C. State announced Gottfried had been awarded a contract extension through 2020.
The Tribe, the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season winner last season, ended those good-time feelings with an easy victory. William & Mary bolted to a 23-5 lead in the first six minutes and was never seriously threatened by the Pack, which has been to the NCAA Tournament each of the four seasons under Gottfried and reached the NCAA round of 16 last season.
“We’re disappointed and I think we learned tonight we’ve got a long way to go,” Gottfried said. “What we have to understand is the Sweet 16 run is a year in the past and in the rearview mirror. We better figure out with this team how it needs to play and how we’re going to get better, and we need to do it quickly.”
Sophomore Caleb Martin had a career-high 21 points for the Pack, while sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu had 17 and freshman Maverick Rowan had 16 in his first college game. But junior point guard Cat Barber struggled, forcing shots and making some bad decisions, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting from the field.
In the beginning I couldn’t hit my shot. My team kept telling me to shoot but I couldn’t hit, so I tried to do something else — pass the ball, get to the bucket.
N.C. State’s Cat Barber
Adding to the agony for the Pack was a right ankle injury to junior guard Terry Henderson. The transfer from West Virginia played just seven minutes before falling in the lane under the N.C. State basket.
Gottfried said Henderson was X-rayed at PNC Arena, then taken to a hospital for further X-rays. He had no other update in his condition.
Daniel Dixon had 19 points and Omar Prewitt 17 for the Tribe, which shot 51.7 percent from the field with its motion offense while limiting the Pack to 38 percent — 6-for-22 on 3’s — with a blend of man-to-man and a point zone.
“We would cut the lead down a little bit but couldn’t get enough stops in a row,” Martin said.
The Pack began the new season with an airball by Abu and the first half was mostly frustrating for N.C. State as the Tribe built a 51-35 lead, ending the period with a layup by center Sean Sheldon at the buzzer.
“That’s a veteran team that knew what they wanted to run and they ran their stuff,” Barber said. “They were on.”
William & Mary knocked down seven of 13 shots from three-point range in the first half. The Tribe used a 13-0 spurt to build the lead to 23-5 before Barber ended the run with a short jumper, hurting the Pack with backdoor cuts and screens that set up open looks.
“The first half we just settled for too many jump shots,” Barber said. “In the beginning I couldn’t hit my shot. My team kept telling me to shoot but I couldn’t hit, so I tried to do something else — pass the ball, get to the bucket.”
Barber missed a 3-pointer that would have pulled the Pack within 10 with seven minutes left in regulation. Jack Whitman followed with a dunk for the Tribe and William & Mary was on its way to beating the Pack for the first time since 1952 and its first in Raleigh since 1950.
“Tonight you saw a very experienced, well-oiled machine playing against a very inexperienced team that didn’t handle the adversity really well,” Gottfried said. “They jumped out, led 23-5, making every shot and I thought we became very hurried … and not trusting our offense.
“We were trying to make a 10-point shot every trip, trying to get it all back. We became rushed and dug ourselves a deeper hole. We need to learn to have some poise … and respond better. Having poise, executing our offense, making the adjustment defensively. Those are the things we have to learn to do.”