It’s easier to no-show and lose than it is to lose the way N.C. State did on Wednesday.
You get run out of the gym, like N.C. State did at Louisville or at North Carolina earlier this season, and there are no second-guesses or “what ifs?” It’s just a simple matter of effort and being overwhelmed.
Then there are losses like the 100-93 overtime decision to Syracuse.
“That one hurts,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
It does, and not only because N.C. State led by 16 points with 8:30 left in regulation, but also because the prerequisite effort was there for the Wolfpack (14-9, 3-7 ACC) to put a little life back in its season.
N.C. State led 87-84 after Maverick Rowan’s 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds left, but John Gillon, who set a new PNC Arena record with 43 points, forced overtime with his own off-balance 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left.
“I’m sick to my stomach for (the players) because I thought they played extremely hard, and I thought they did enough to win the game,” Gottfried said.
Offensively, N.C. State certainly did. Freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. had a triple-double (13 points, 11 rebounds, 15 assists), Rowan scored a career-high 31 points and junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu added 19 points.
There was a stretch for about 9 and a half minutes — the score was tied at 47 at the 18-minute mark of the second half, then N.C. State led 75-59 at the 8:30 mark — where it was as good as it gets for N.C. State.
On offense, senior guard Terry Henderson made three 3-pointers during that 28-12 run and scored 11 points. Rowan hit a 3, Smith hit a 3, Abu dunked off of a beautiful no-look pass from Smith in transition and Smith hit a highlight-reel reverse layup.
On defense, N.C. State forced Syracuse to miss nine of 15 shots during that stretch. So during those 9 minutes, Syracuse shot 40 percent — which, by the way, is not bad — but for the rest of the second half, the Orange shot 72.7 percent (8-of-11). That’s patently ridiculous.
Gillon, who entered the game with an 8.9 scoring average, scored a career-high 43 points on just 13 shots. He was 9-of-10 from the 3-point line, which broke former Davidson star Steph Curry’s PNC Arena record for 3s (eight against Gonzaga in the 2008 NCAA tournament). Gillon also broke T.J. Warren’s single-game arena scoring record (42 points for the Wolfpack in a 2014 win over Boston College).
Gillon was guarded closely on his 3-pointer to force overtime. It was a shot described by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim as “virtually almost impossible.” A shot that Gottfried said he would have signed up for before the game if given the choice.
“I probably would have taken that one, taken my chances,” Gottfried said. “The kid just had one of those days. He made every shot and he made every important shot, including that one.”
But Gillon had a lot of other clean looks from 3. Ones teammate Andrew White was quite frankly surprised by N.C. State’s defensive strategy.
“The hedge was kind of soft and his man was going under the screen,” said White, who had nine of his 28 points in overtime. “So you know, in ACC basketball, that’s easy pickings.”
And that’s the problem for N.C. State and has been all season. Defensively, the Wolfpack can’t quite find its way.
The Wolfpack has tried zone, man and any sort of combination of the two without success. The Orange needed overtime to get to triple digits but it is the third time N.C. State has allowed at least 100 points in a game this season. You have to go back to the 1990-91 season for the last time that has happened.
The defensive deficiencies have led to lopsided losses, like the one at Louisville this past Sunday (85-60) or the one in Chapel Hill on Jan. 8 (107-56).
This loss stung more because N.C. State had contained its roller coaster of emotions on a game-by-game basis. This game featured both the “good” and the “bad” N.C. State in the same half.
“Everybody knows what we’re capable of,” Abu said. “This one hurts a little bit because we feel like it was one of the games where we put it together.”
N.C. State did put it all together, just not for long enough. The sting from this loss will linger a lot longer.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio