Only the final score from Tuesday’s game with UNC Greensboro will go in N.C. State’s basketball record book.
That qualifies as an early Christmas gift for the Wolfpack, which stretched the definition of ugly with a 58-52 win against the Spartans at PNC Arena.
If missed shots (a combined 70) and rebounds (a combined 78) are your thing, there was plenty of value in Tuesday’s sludge-fest between in-state opponents. For N.C. State (9-3), which got 27 points from junior guard Cat Barber, the photographic or video evidence can be destroyed –but a win is a win is a win.
“We’ll take it,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “We’re always happy about winning. We get to have a little bit nicer Christmas, but we also understand we can play a lot better than we did tonight.”
N.C. State never trailed but had some tense moments as the missed shots and defensive lapses piled up. Junior guard Diante Baldwin spurred a 17-5 run by the Spartans to erase a 12-point N.C. State lead in the second half. His layup at 3:43 tied the score at 46.
A putback by forward Abdul-Malik Abu at 3:18, N.C. State’s third shot of the possession, moved the Wolfpack in front for good, 48-46.
UNCG followed Abu’s layup with a turnover by guard Demetrius Troy, and Barber had a clear path to the basket after a stutter-step dribble for a 50-46 lead.
A 3-pointer by Caleb Martin at 2:18 extended N.C. State’s lead to 53-49. The Wolfpack was up 55-49 before the Spartans got a 3 from Troy in the corner with 33.6 seconds left, prompting a timeout and an outburst from Gottfried.
“We’re up six, and at that point, all you’ve got to do is make them make tough shots against sound, fundamental defense,” Gottfried said. “At that point, we don’t want to start running around gambling and chasing guys and leaving guys. The next thing you know, the best shooter on their team gets a wide-open 3.”
N.C. State responded with a pair of free throws by Barber with 14.4 seconds left to avoid further trouble.
Barber, who finished with more than 25 points for the third straight game, regularly uses the word “honest” as a hashtag on Twitter.
He didn’t hide his feelings about how N.C. State played Tuesday.
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it was one of our great games, but we came out with the win,” Barber said.
Neither team could get into any kind of flow on offense. UNCG (4-8) finished the game 35 percent from the floor (21 of 60), and N.C. State shot 40.4 percent (21 of 52).
Baldwin led the Spartans with 13 points. Abu (11 points, 11 rebounds) and BeeJay Anya added 10 points and four blocks for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State made a concerted effort, after shooting 29.6 percent in the first half, to go inside and feed the bigs to start the second half.
Abu, Anya and Lennard Freeman scraped together enough offense to score the first nine points of the second half and stretch a two-point halftime lead to 29-22 on Freeman’s layup at 15:45.
Barber scored eight of the Wolfpack’s next 12 points to provide a little bit of breathing room. Barber’s jumper at 8:36 pushed the Wolfpack lead to 41-27.
“We got up 12 and I think we took our foot off the gas pedal and let them right back in the game,” Gottfried said.
UNCG nearly scored as many points (25) in the last 8:36 as it did up until the Wolfpack built the 12-point lead.
The Spartans UNCG shot a meager 24.1 percent (7 of 29) in the first half but was down only 20-18. That’s because the Wolfpack had its own woes from the floor, going 8 of 27.
“We made it harder than it had to be,” Anya said.
But style points are not factored in the standings, just the final result.
“I think we’re a lot better than we played tonight,” Gottfried said. “You can play bad and lose. You can play bad and win, so we’re still excited about winning.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio