There’s a reason N.C. State and Georgia Tech entered their only scheduled meeting of the season with one ACC win each. Neither team has been able to put complete efforts together, as was the case again on Wednesday.
The two teams took turns trying to give the game away before Georgia Tech finally grabbed its elusive second conference win with a 90-83 road decision over the Wolfpack.
A 36-point outing from Cat Barber and a career-high 22 points from Abdul-Malik Abu couldn’t prevent another ACC loss for the reeling Wolfpack (11-10, 1-7 ACC).
A lackadaisical effort in the first half put the Wolfpack in too deep of a hole, one even Georgia Tech (12-8, 2-5) couldn’t give back.
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N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was seething at halftime with his players and his anger was evident in the post-game press conference.
Gottfried, who normally goes out of his way to be positive with his team, said the players lacked “zip,” “energy,” and “quickness” in the first half and questioned their resolve.
“If I’m in a fight down in the back alley, you might whip me,” Gottfried said. “Damn it, you’re going to be tired at the end of it You ain’t going to whip me easy. This team has to figure that out.”
Barber said the locker room wasn’t pretty at halftime. Gottfried addressed the lack of effort and energy, among other talking points.
“He talked about everything and he was hot while he was saying it,” Barber said.
Not that the Yellow Jackets didn’t try to keep the Wolfpack in the game, even after going up by 14 at the half. N.C. State roared back in the first 9 minutes of the second half, but made one final generous gesture by granting the Jackets a rare five-point possession.
Clinging to a 54-53 lead, Georgia Tech guard Marcus Georges-Hunt (26 points) scored on a putback and was fouled by N.C. State forward BeeJay Anya at the 10:33 mark.
Abu slammed the ball down in frustration over the sequence and received a technical foul. Georges-Hunt went to the foul line for three shots — one for the personal foul, two for the technical — and made all of them.
“I should have grabbed the rebound and it slipped out of my hands and they scored,” Abu said. “I wasn’t mad at the call or anything, I was more frustrated with myself.”
After the dust settled, Georgia Tech led 59-53.
“We got the game back to a one-point game then I thought the technical foul turned the momentum,” Gottfried said. “We’ve got to have more poise from Malik. That was a costly mistake.”
The Jackets didn’t stop there. They scored nine of the game’s next 10 points to complete a decisive 15-1 run. N.C. State went 0 for 8 from the floor during the drought and the Jackets were up 69-54 by the time the Wolfpack recalibrated its offense.
N.C. State is off to its worst ACC start since the 1996-97 season, when it began conference play with an 0-8 record. The Wolfpack has consistently lamented its inability to be consistent and put two solid halves together.
“We’re right there, we’re right on the edge, we just have to turn the corner,” Barber said. “It’s mental right now.”
The way the Wolfpack started the second half, it looked like it might. N.C. State made 7 of its first 11 shots (63.6 percent) in the second half on Wednesday. After falling behind 47-33 at the half, the Wolfpack had a long way to climb.
Barber made two 3s during a 14-2 Wolfpack run to get Georgia Tech’s lead to 54-51 at 12:13. Caleb Martin missed an open 3 which would have tied the game but a dunk by Abu on the next possession pulled the Wolfpack within a point.
That’s when it went south for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State freshman Maverick Rowan (13 points, all in the second half) was able to fire in some 3-pointers in the last 3 minutes to cut what was a 15-point lead down to 79-74 points with 1:38 left.
But Georgia Tech got enough free throws from Adam Smith (20 points) and finished 29 of 34 from the line to avoid an epic collapse.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio