After N.C. State’s 97-73 home loss to North Carolina, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried went through his normal postgame routine and went back out onto the court for his radio show.
A handful of N.C. State fans waited for him. After he spoke for about 5 minutes he walked into the tunnel at PNC Arena back to his news conference with the media.
“Go back to ESPN,” one disgruntled N.C. State fan yelled at the sixth-year coach.
Gottfried’s night started the same way. When his name was introduced before the game, he was booed by large pockets of the capacity crowd.
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“That’s harsh,” superstar rapper J. Cole said from his front-row seat.
In between, and in his news conference with the media, Gottfried tried to focus on basketball. That’s easier said than done when his job was in the balance.
On Thursday, Gottfried was fired by N.C. State.
Gottfried declined to talk about his future with the media before the game on Tuesday and then after the game again on Wednesday.
While he has said he wouldn’t make his case publicly, he was asked if he would make it with N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow.
“That’s not something I want to answer,” Gottfried said.
During the game, Gottfried didn’t leave a trick in his bag, but it wasn’t nearly enough to slow the first-place Tar Heels (22-5, 10-3 ACC). He shuffled the starting lineup (putting guard Torin Dorn back in for the first time in five weeks), used some early timeouts and switched defenses.
The Tar Heels jumped out to a 27-10 lead early, but N.C. State (14-13, 3-11) made one push, led by freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. (27 points) in the first half to get the deficit to six. The second half was not as close.
Gottfried called a timeout at 12:12 with his team down 70-49. The players just kind of looked past Gottfried while he talked in the huddle.
Five minutes later, after the under-8 television timeout, Gottfried was alone clapping on the floor, hoping any of the players would respond.
The last-gasp push never came. The N.C. State fans started to file out of the building with 4 minutes left, and the UNC fans got their second “Let’s go Tar Heels!” chant of the night.
Gottfried chalked up the final margin to defensive woes and rebounding problems. UNC finished with a 41-25 rebounding margin and a 27-13 advantage in second-chance points.
But even after another lopsided loss, the fourth in the past six games by at least 24 points, and with his future in doubt, Gottfried remained positive in the news conference.
“We like to beat ourselves up – we certainly didn’t do things well – but that’s a good team,” Gottfried said. “You have to give them credit.”
The Heels were good, with five different players in double figures, but it was another game that N.C. State let slip away and couldn’t figure out a way to keep fighting.
Gottfried said the team’s inexperience is compounding by an especially difficult conference grind.
“We’re caught right now – and I know people are tired of hearing it but it’s truth, it is the truth – we’ve got a lot of young players playing in a league that is really, really good this year,” Gottfried said. “You just get caught in a vulnerable spot.”
To Gottfried, there was no doubt who should take the blame for his team’s woes.
“Everything that happens is my responsibility,” Gottfried said. “I get it. Just like if you beat Villanova in the NCAA tournament or you go to the Sweet 16 you get a lot of praise a lot of times as a coach. Other times you take the hits. That’s part of what we do.”
The hits outnumbered the praise on Wednesday night and all season for Gottfried.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio