You would expect Notre Dame star Zach Auguste, a senior, to have a big day on Senior Day, but freshman Matt Ryan?
There have been few constants for N.C. State in what has been an inconsistent season. One has been the emergence of an unheralded player from the opponent’s lineup to step up and deliver a career performance.
Ryan filled the role on Saturday afternoon, to complement Auguste, in a 89-75 loss by the Wolfpack in the regular-season finale against the Fighting Irish.
Ryan lit up N.C. State’s defense with four 3-pointers and a career-best 17 points. Auguste, the Irish’s leading scorer on the season playing in his last home game, had 24 and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame (20-10, 11-7 ACC).
“You really have to focus on Zach off the pick-and-roll,” said N.C. State forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. “And that gets Ryan open and he got hot. That gave them a spark.”
Ryan, a 6-8 small forward, had never scored more than 10 points in an ACC game and was shooting 34.5 percent from the 3-point line in conference play. He made 66.7 percent of his 3s (4 of 6) and had 17 points in 11 minutes in the first half. His season scoring average before Saturday was 5.3 points per game.
N.C. State (15-16) got its usual scoring flourish from junior guard Cat Barber (29 points) — the only other constant this season. But the loss was N.C. State’s 13th in ACC play, its most since the 1995-96 season. It marked the first time in coach Mark Gottfried’s five seasons with a losing conference record.
“Five and 13 is not acceptable for me,” Gottfried said. “That’s not what I’m here to do and our guys know it. And that’s not why our guys came here. So that is frustrating.”
Barber finished with 29 points, six more than his league-leading average, but that wasn’t enough to offset the outburst from Ryan.
“He was the difference in the first half,” Gottfried said of Ryan. “Our focus was with Auguste and (Demetrius) Jackson. He did a great job in the first half.”
N.C. State led for good chunks of the first half with Jackson, Notre Dame’s regular star perimeter threat, going scoreless.
Notre Dame opened up a 10-point lead early in the second half but N.C. State was able to tie the game at 53. The Irish were up 60-59 before they pulled away for good with a 13-2 run.
Ryan was scoreless in the second half but Jackson added 14 points, to go with seven assists.
“We just had too many gaps where we didn’t defend well enough,” Gottfried said. “We have to guard a little better.”
The Irish shot 55.2 percent in the second half and finished the game 12 of 26 from the 3-point line. Abu helped Barber with 20 points, and sophomore guard Caleb Martin added 16, but N.C. State’s other five players combined for 10 points.
The Wolfpack, as the No. 12 seed, will play Wake Forest, the No. 13 seed, at noon on Tuesday in the opening round of the ACC tournament in Washington.