N.C. State’s loss in its first ACC game, and second in as many road games this season, was a byproduct of a lack of either execution or fortitude.
It depends on whom you ask. Neither answer is very settling for the Wolfpack, which fell 81-63 on the road Saturday to a hungrier Miami team.
“We just weren’t playing tough enough,” said freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr., who led the Wolfpack with 21 points but struggled early in the game to get into a rhythm.
Miami (11-2, 1-0 ACC) repeatedly beat N.C. State (11-3, 0-1 ACC) to loose balls and offensive rebounds. The Hurricanes also had nine steals and held the Wolfpack to 38.9 percent shooting. The only other time N.C. State shot less than 40 percent this season was in a 67-55 overtime win over Tennessee State on Dec. 10.
N.C. State forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, agreed with Smith.
“It was an intensity thing,” Abu said. “It’s always tough when you know some of the mistakes you made come from inside. Those things are things you should try to fix before the game starts and try to have the right mentality.”
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was more concerned about his team’s lack of execution. The passing and ball movement that marked his team’s recent lopsided nonconference wins was absent.
Miami did a good job cutting off the middle of its zone to the Wolfpack bigs, and N.C. State’s guards couldn’t make the Hurricanes pay from the outside.
Guards Terry Henderson and Torin Dorn entered the game with a combined scoring average of 31.3 points per game. The pair combined for 15 points and had more turnovers (five) than made field goals (four).
Gottfried was not pleased with how his team ran the offense.
“I think our team has to learn how to execute our offense in this league to get better shots,” Gottfried said.
“When the going gets tough, it’s not just let’s play one-on-one basketball. It’s executing your offense better so that Malik gets the shots he needs, Maverick (Rowan) gets the shots he needs, Terry gets the shots he needs and on down the line.”
Rowan made a pair of 3-pointers midway through the first half to help N.C. State tie the score at 24 at 7:32 in the first half. It was the only time during the game the Wolfpack was competitive.
Miami used a 14-4 run to stretch out to a 41-32 halftime lead, and then it started the second half strong and put N.C. State in catch-up mode.
The Wolfpack could never figure out how to close the gap.
A better start, with more juice, might help, Smith said.
“We’ve got to come out with more effort, more energy,” said Smith, who finished with five assists and five turnovers in his first ACC game.
Better rebounding, which is tied to toughness and effort, would help, too. Miami had a 26-12 advantage in second-chance points. The Canes had 17 offensive rebounds.
The extra chances helped Miami offset a 6-of-20 effort from the 3-point line and a 13-of-23 effort from the foul line.
The players and Gottfried talked after the game about the need to put the game behind them and move onto Wednesday’s home opener with Virginia Tech (12-1, 1-0). The problem for N.C. State is the Hokies, coming off of a 14-point home win over Duke, are cut from the same cloth as Miami.
They’re another tough, maximum effort team. N.C. State can try to move on, but it also has to learn from this loss.
“It’s one of those games where you don’t have to repeat the same message twice,” Abu said.
Joe Giglio: 919-892-8938, @jwgiglio