Louisville is N.C. State’s “new Maryland.”
In case the pivotal loss during football season didn’t drive the point home, the Cardinals reminded N.C. State in basketball on Thursday.
The Cardinals had the Wolfpack’s number again, even after a late rally by N.C. State. Reserve guard Quentin Snider scored a career-high 21 points to help No. 16 Louisville hold off N.C. State 77-72.
N.C. State (10-5) fell to 0-2 in the ACC for the first time in coach Mark Gottfried’s five seasons. Gottfried was more encouraged by his team’s effort in the late rally than worried about the winless conference start.
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“We’re not far off,” Gottfried said. “I like my team. We’re going to stay positive and keep working.”
In a microcosm of the season thus far, N.C. State’s performance was uneven on Thursday. The Wolfpack couldn’t buy a shot early, made a push in the middle, fell behind by 16 late and then closed the gap to three points with 16.8 seconds left.
After Louisville’s Damion Lee missed a pair of free throws with 16.8 seconds left, N.C. State had the ball and was down 75-72 with a chance to force overtime.
Junior guard Cat Barber, who led the Wolfpack with 20 points, decided to go to the basket instead of taking a 3 but was unable to get a shot over Louisville forward Chinanu Onuaku.
Barber tried to control the deflected shot but knocked the loose ball out of bounds with 7.5 seconds left. Lee converted his free throws on the subsequent foul and Louisville got out of town with the win.
Bad things keep happening to N.C. State when it runs up against Louisville (13-2, 2-0 ACC). Not even two years into their ACC membership, the Cardinals knocked the Wolfpack out of the NCAA tournament last year in the Sweet 16.
Then in October, Louisville’s 20-13 win in Raleigh in the ACC opener set the tone for an underachieving football season.
That Louisville replaced Maryland in the ACC, who formerly had some sort of spell over N.C. State for much of the 2000s, only makes perfect sense.
Snider hit one of his four 3-pointers during a pivotal 18-5 run in the second half to help the Cardinals improve to 2-0 in ACC play.
Onuaku helped Snider with 12 points and 14 rebounds and the Cards finished 7 of 13 (53.8 percent) from the 3-point line.
Sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu added 15 points and 12 rebounds for N.C. State, which again struggled from the free-throw line. The Wolfpack finished 20 of 31 from the line.
N.C. State’s bigs in particular struggled from the foul line with Abu, BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman going 7 of 16 from the line.
“We have to be better a foul-shooting team,” Gottfried said. “It’s one of those things that’s hard to fix.”
Louisville’s depth allowed coach Rick Pitino to use up some fouls on N.C. State’s forwards. Pitino used 11 different players, compared to seven for N.C. State.
N.C. State billed the game as a “blackout,” with the players wearing alternate black uniforms, but it was the Wolfpack offense that blanked out for a 6-minute stretch in the first half.
Louisville built up a 27-13 lead as N.C. State went 6 minutes without a field goal and started 5 of 25 from the floor. Just like last year’s NCAA loss, N.C. State couldn’t get anything going against the Cards’ 2-3 zone.
N.C. State shot better in the second half, 45.2 percent (14 of 31) and made 6 of 11 from the 3-point line to make the late push.
Maverick Rowan had four 3s and scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half for N.C. State. The hustle and scoring of Rowan and sophomore wing Caleb Martin (13 points) were two of the main reasons Gottfried took a positive spin on the second ACC loss.
“You can see it’s in there,” Gottfried said. “You can see it. It’s there somewhere. We can become a confident team as we play better.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is the Wolfpack is not scheduled to see Louisville again this season.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio