There’s no mystery as to why N.C. State struggled in another close nonconference home win.
Terry Henderson scored 23 points, and Torin Dorn added 22 to edge Boston University, 77-73 on Saturday.
It was the third win, in four home games, by four points or less by the Wolfpack (6-2). The common thread isn’t difficult to identify.
“We’re putting up a good amount of points to win games,” freshman guard Markell Johnson said. “We just need to defend well. That’s it.”
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried isn’t making any apologies for the close wins or ready to panic over the defensive issues.
“I’d love to blow every team out by 25 points,” Gottfried said. “That would be wonderful. We’ve got a young team that’s going to get better, and they’re going to get better every day. We’re going to figure it out.”
N.C. State’s offense bailed out its porous defense again against the Terriers (4-4). The Wolfpack, after leading by as many as 13 in the first half, fell behind early in the second half.
But N.C. State was able to score on six straight possessions after falling behind 44-42 at 16:26 on Boston guard Kyle Foreman’s uncontested layup.
N.C. State actually stretched its second-half lead out to 16, 65-49 after Boston’s second technical foul of the game and four straight free throws by Dorn, but the Terriers kept coming.
Boston shot 55.6 percent in the second half and was able to take advantage of N.C. State on the pick-and-roll.
Defending high screens has been a problem all season for N.C. State. The Wolfpack gave up 112 points to Creighton on Nov. 20 in the Paradise Jam. Illinois scored 56 points in the second half of Tuesday’s 88-74 win over N.C. State. The Illini shot 67.9 percent after trailing 33-32 at the half.
There is some confusion over how N.C. State wants to defend the pick-and-roll.
“It’s a lot we try to do to stop (it),” Johnson said. “Our main focus is really just to keep a guy in front of us coming off a screen.”
But that’s not happening. Why?
“Y’all see it, y’all watch it,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing else to say.”
Gottfried said there’s no one way he wants his team to defend ball screens.
“It’s different every time,” Gottfried said. “You’ve got to be able to defend it more than one way.”
Guard Eric Fanning (16 points) and forward Tyler Scanlon (15 points) were able to exploit N.C. State’s defense.
A couple of times when Boston got loose for easy baskets, Gottfried said his players just chose the wrong option.
“Of all your choices, they picked none and that’s not good,” Gottfried said. “A, B, C answer and they picked D. We’ve to figure it out. We’ve got to get better at it.”
N.C. State also needs to improve from the foul line. Dorn made 9 of his 11 attempts, but the rest of the team was 13-of-25. Johnson and freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. were handling the ball late against Boston’s press and went a combined 8-of-14 from the line.
At one point, while N.C. State was trying to put the game away, it missed four straight free throws.
“It puts a lot of pressure on your defense when you give points away at the foul line like that,” Gottfried said.
Boston cut N.C. State’s lead down to 69-64 after a 3-pointer by Cedric Hankerson with 3:20 left in the game.
A dunk by Henderson with 48 seconds left put N.C. State up 74-65 and extinguished the final Boston rally.
Boston made two more 3s after Henderson’s dunk and got a steal and layup to make it a four-point final margin.
There were some positives on defense, Gottfried said, yet he still understood where his team is with five more games before ACC play begins.
“On one hand, we’re getting little bit better, but we still have a great deal of room for improvement, in my opinion,” Gottfried said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio