N.C. State created chaos in the final 68 seconds to dig out of a double-digit hole.
The problem for the Wolfpack was Wake Forest made too many free throws, and none of the close calls in the final frenzied seconds went its way.
The combination left N.C. State with its first home loss to the Demon Deacons since 2005, a 93-88 decision, and at 2-5 in the ACC with a trip to Duke next on the schedule.
“Our resiliency is going to have to show,” sophomore guard Torin Dorn said.
The Wolfpack (13-7, 2-5 ACC) showed some fight after Wake Forest took a 10-point lead in the final 5 minutes. The Demon Deacons were merciless from the foul line, going 29-of-33 in the game and 23-of-26 in the second half.
N.C. State led by one point at the half, 44-43, but was outscored 23-11 from the foul line in the second half. While the Deacs barely missed from the charity stripe, N.C. State struggled to a 16-of-27 mark.
“Free throws win basketball games, and it showed today,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said. “I don’t know what we shot, I don’t know what they shot, but we missed a lot. We left a lot of points on the board. Those hurt you in the end game.”
They did on Saturday. N.C. State tried to overcome its problems in the final 1:08 but couldn’t quite catch a break or make enough of its own.
Down 85-79, freshman guard Markell Johnson stole a pass at Wake’s end and had a breakaway. He was contested on his way to the basket by Wake Forest guard Mitchell Wilbekin. There was contact on the play, and Wilbekin did strip Johnson of the ball, but there was no foul called.
N.C. State was able to cut Wake’s lead to 88-82 with a 3-pointer by senior guard Terry Henderson with 44.8 seconds left. Henderson got a steal from Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods on the next possession and hit another 3-pointer to make it 88-85 with 34.9 seconds left.
N.C. State appeared to have forced another Wake Forest turnover when guard Bryant Crawford stepped out of bounds near midcourt but referee Jamie Luckie called Abu for his fifth foul with 28.8 seconds left.
Crawford made one of the two free throws, and then Henderson answered with a dunk, over Wake big man John Collins, to make it 89-87 with 17.7 seconds left. There appeared to be contact by Collins on Henderson’s dunk attempt, but there was no foul called.
Wilbekin was fouled on the next inbounds sequence and made both of his free throws. N.C. State guard Dennis Smith Jr. took the ball to the basket with 9.1 seconds left and this time a foul was called on Collins, his fifth. Smith made one of two free throws to make it 91-88.
On the ensuing inbounds play, N.C. State pressed Wake Forest in the backcourt and Smith pressured Wilbekin near the end line to force the ball loose. Henderson collected what looked like a steal, but Luckie signaled that Henderson was out of bounds when he touched the ball. The replay showed Henderson was not out of bounds.
Gottfried did ask Luckie to review the play, but Luckie said, according to Gottfried, that “he didn’t need to review it. He had it for sure.”
According to ACC rules, the play was not reviewable. In the final 2 minutes, replay can be used to determine a shot clock violation or which team caused the ball to go out of bounds when there is a deflection involving two or more players.
Wake Forest benefited from Luckie’s mistake and then Wilbekin put the game away for good. Smith fouled Wilbekin with 4 seconds left and then the Wake Forest guard made both of his free throws.
“Life moves on,” is all Gottfried would say of the officiating issues in the final moments.
It does and in N.C. State’s case, with one more ACC loss and regret.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio