If you can’t make sense of N.C. State’s embarrassing performance in a 51-point loss to North Carolina on Sunday, you’re not alone.
The same N.C. State team that looked like a million dollars on Wednesday, in a 26-point home win over Virginia Tech, looked like a pocketful of pennies in a 107-56 demolition at the Smith Center.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” sophomore guard Torin Dorn said.
When so many things go wrong in arguably the worst loss in school history, it’s hard to find a starting point. There were too many turnovers (26), not enough rebounds (UNC had 50) and not nearly enough defense. North Carolina scored more points than it ever has against the Wolfpack. That covers 231 games since 1913.
The only time N.C. State has ever lost by more points, to any opponent, was to UNC in 1921, a 62-10 loss in a game that might as well have been played with peach baskets.
But those are hard numbers. N.C. State’s real problem is a lack of interest in competing. This particular group, which as coach Mark Gottfried has correctly noted is young and inexperienced, only competes when it suits them. That might work in AAU basketball, but it doesn’t work that way for good ACC teams.
Gottfried said before the Virginia Tech win his team needed to put away its “cool” jackets. They did for one game. N.C. State busted out its cool parkas with matching winter hats and cable-knit gloves for the Tar Heels on Sunday.
“My team is the same team that just played against Virginia Tech,” Gottfried said.
And that’s part of N.C. State’s problem, too. In playing so well against Virginia Tech, likely an NCAA tournament team, the Wolfpack showed its ceiling.
Talent is not an issue with this team and using inexperience as an excuse, in today’s version of college basketball, doesn’t hold the same water it did 25 yeas ago. Everyone’s young, at least the teams N.C. State competes with on the recruiting trail for the country’s top talent.
For the same team that looked so good against Virginia Tech to turn around three days later and look so hopelessly lost and disinterested, down 26-4 in the first eight and a half minutes, is a troubling sign.
Gottfried, whose trademark is his positivity, does not see the loss the same way.
“We were bad, we’re going to acknowledge that,” Gottfried said. “I was bad. We were all bad. Bad day but the sun will come up tomorrow, and we’re going to get ready to play on the road on Wednesday.”
It was one game, Gottfried said. True, and a loss by 51 points counts the same as a loss by one point. The problem for Gottfried is N.C. State has had other poor performances similar to this one earlier in the season, all away from home, and seemingly didn’t learn anything from them.
Creighton scored 112 points, the second-most allowed in school history, in the Paradise Jam on Nov. 20. Illinois shot 67.9 percent in the second half on Nov. 29. Miami just pushed N.C. State around in the ACC opener last Saturday and dared it to push back. The response never came.
All of those games were away from home. N.C. State lost them all. Wednesday’s game Gottfried referred to? On the road at Boston College.
“It’s still early in conference play,” freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. said. “We’ve got a lot of time to make our mark in conference play.”
Also true at 1-2, N.C. State has 15 ACC games left. Unless N.C. State figures out how to compete consistently, at home and on the road, the only mark it’s going to leave is going to be a question mark.
As in, “What could have been?”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio