It was a long three days since N.C. State lost to Purdue, thanks in part to a technically correct but rarely called out-of-bounds violation on Ralston Turner.
Three days to stew. Three days to agonize. Three days that gave the Wolfpack no time to relax, recover, regroup or rebound, thanks to a quirk of the schedule that put N.C. State’s ACC opener immediately on the heels of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
By the time Wake Forest arrived at PNC Arena on Saturday, the Purdue loss was still weighing very heavily on the Wolfpack. And it showed – N.C. State got off to a dismal start highlighted by some passive defense and nine first-half turnovers.
“We had a chance to look back on all of our mistakes,” Turner said. “One of the things we didn’t do in that game was execute. So we came out with that on our mind, real heavy. I think as the game went on, we just kind of relaxed a little bit and played basketball.”
Maybe it just took a halftime conversation among the players in the locker room. Or maybe by the end of the first half, the sting of the Purdue loss finally wore off. Either way, the Wolfpack opened the second half on an 11-0 run and never looked back on its way to a 78-65 win and sole possession of first place in the ACC – for a week, at least.
Turner finished with a team-high 21 points and the Wolfpack even went 10 for 14 from the free-throw line over the final four minutes to lock down the win, perhaps exorcising that particular collective demon, or at least going some distance toward that end.
“As the game progressed, we got better,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “We started really slow. We turned the ball over a number of times and just seemed to be out of sorts offensively. But then I thought we settled in.”
Still, it was neither pretty nor easy, thanks in large part to the schedule and the circumstances. At a time when the Wolfpack would normally be fine-tuning its rotation and experimenting with lineup combinations, it was instead plunged directly into ACC play.
This isn’t unusual. The ACC typically schedules a few December games to take advantage of Saturday television slots that aren’t otherwise occupied by football, although this game, curiously, was in direct competition with the ACC football title game in Charlotte.
N.C. State and Wake Forest played in December in 2009 and the Deacons once opened ACC play even earlier than this, on Dec. 3 against Maryland in 1998.
This season, it was bad timing for both teams – tough for N.C. State, which is ahead of schedule incorporating transfer star Trevor Lacey into a lineup predominantly manned by freshmen and sophomores, and even tougher for Wake Forest, which is laboring under new coach Danny Manning and has already suffered home losses to Iona and Delaware State.
But the schedule came out months ago. This game was on it. So it’s full speed ahead on the ACC season. Everyone else can catch up later. Other than Florida State and Notre Dame, in next Saturday night’s spot, no other ACC games will be played until January.
“We’re a work in progress,” Gottfried said. “We’re nowhere near where we can be. But it’s nice to get an ACC win here, and do it on a night when we started so sluggishly.”
The Wolfpack may not have preferred to be thrust into ACC play so quickly, and it showed, but the Purdue loss was forgotten in the wake of a winning beginning to the conference season.