This is how life goes in the ACC. You can light Duke up for 32 points or you can be squashed by Louisville.
N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. is learning that on the fly and the hard way. After the freshman star scored a season-low eight points in Sunday’s 85-60 loss to Louisville, he could have made excuses or blamed others. The Fayetteville point guard did not.
“I didn’t bring enough energy on either end, to start the game out, and (my teammates) follow me,” Smith said. “When I don’t bring a lot of energy it’s hard for them to really get going. I have to come out and bring it every night.”
Smith didn’t take a shot in the game’s first 6 minutes, even with walk-on guard David Levitch guarding him. By the time Smith scored his first basket, off of a steal and layup in transition, Louisville led 21-11 at the 11:37 mark.
It only got worse from there for Smith. He lost guard Ryan McMahon on the next possession, and the Louisville freshman made a 3-pointer.
After getting fouled by McMahon in front of the Louisville bench, he flipped the ball back to McMahon. Referee Brian Dorsey called a technical foul on Smith at 10:01 in the first half.
Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell made both free throws from the technical foul, and Louisville’s lead grew to 28-13.
There were 36 NBA scouts at the game, according to Louisville, and they were there mostly to see how Smith would react to his 32-point performance at Duke.
Instead, Mitchell gave them a show. He had 14 points before Smith even got off his first shot attempt. Mitchell made 5 of his 6 3-point attempts in the first half and was 9-of-17 from the floor for 28 points with eight rebounds and five assists.
“He shot the ball well,” Smith said. “I mean, he had a lot of open looks. A lot of guys will shoot very well if they shoot that many open shots.”
While Mitchell had room to shoot and score and do as he wanted, Smith never got in any kind of groove. All the success he had taking the ball to the basket at Duke vanished in Louisville’s press and zone.
“We wanted to intelligently dog Smith as much as we could and wear him out,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Mission accomplished. Smith, who came into the game with a 20.4 scoring average in conference play, finished 3-of-12 from the floor for eight points with five rebounds, six assists and five turnovers in 29 minutes.
It was the first time all season Smith didn’t score at least 10 points.
“He’s human,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “It wasn’t just Dennis, it was everybody on the roster.”
But Smith, showing some signs of maturity and leadership as a freshman, didn’t try to pass the buck for the team’s poor performance.
“It’s on me,” Smith said. “If we lose a game, it’s on me. I take full responsibility. We could have been a lot better and we’ve got to bounce back.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio