State Now: Pack’s slow start dooms upset bid

N.C. State's Abdul-Malik Abu (0) checks on N.C. State's Cody Martin (15) after North Carolina's 81-79 victory over N.C. State at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.
N.C. State's Abdul-Malik Abu (0) checks on N.C. State's Cody Martin (15) after North Carolina's 81-79 victory over N.C. State at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.

N.C State got a tipped shot with 0.2 seconds left in the game that would have forced overtime with North Carolina on Wednesday night.

The final sequence sealed North Carolina’s 81-79 win, but to Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried, his team lost in the first 20 minutes.

Cody Martin’s tip attempt of a missed free throw by Abdul-Malik Abu at the buzzer went to the left of the rim. North Carolina left Raleigh with its 23rd win in 25 games in the rivalry and N.C. State went home wondering where the effort from the last 20 minutes of the game was in the first 20 minutes.

“For us, we just learned a lesson,” said senior Ralston Turner, who led the second-half comeback with 20 points. “We have to play both halves. We didn’t play to our capabilities in the first half and that put us in a hole.”

The Wolfpack (12-6, 3-2 ACC) was sluggish in the first half, “in slow motion” is how Gottfried put it. N.C. State shot 33.3 percent and worse, allowed the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1) to make 58.3 percent of their shots.

“I was disappointed at halftime,” Gottfried said. “I didn’t think in the first half that we had the movement, the quickness.”

UNC led 32-26 at the half and then made six of its first eight shots to start the second half.

But N.C. State found a spark in the second half on offense. Junior guard Trevor Lacey had 17 of his 19 points in the second half. The Wolfpack shot 51.5 percent in the second half and scored 53 points. It’s the most points N.C. State has scored in a half this season, topping the 50 it had in the second half of Sunday’s 87-75 win against Duke.

“The second half we came out and played basketball,” Gottfried said.

UNC led by as many as 12 in the second half, 66-54 at the 6:58 mark, but N.C. State cut the lead to one twice in the final minute.

“We showed a lot of toughness and never one time did they quit,” Gottfried said. “They executed two or three things late in the game that gave us a chance.”

But UNC got too much production inside, Gottfried said. Forwards Kennedy Meeks (7 of 13), Brice Johnson (4 of 7) and Isaiah Hicks (6 of 7) made 17 field goals for the Tar Heels, all of them came before the Wolfpack’s late rally.

Gottfried said the trio’s scoring was the difference in the game.

“We’ve got to be much better defensively inside,” Gottfried said.

While UNC scored points inside, and a season-high 23 from guard Marcus Paige, N.C. State’s guards got the Wolfpack back in the game.

Turner’s four-point play – a made 3-pointer and a free throw – cut UNC’s lead to 73-68 with 2:40 to play.

Turner, who finished 5 of 14 from 3, had two chances to tie the game at 74 but missed both shots.

Lacey’s 3 with 14 seconds left made it 76-74 but UNC’s J.P. Tokoto made one of two free throws with 11.5 seconds left.

Up 77-74, UNC coach Roy Williams elected to foul Cat Barber with 3.9 seconds left, instead of letting N.C. State get a look from 3.

Barber made both free throws, followed by two from Nate Britt to keep UNC’s lead at 79-76.

Williams had Hicks foul Lacey with 1.7 seconds left, instead of letting him get a shot off from 3.

Lacey made the first free throw and tried to miss the second but it went in. Paige knocked down two more free throws with 1.0 seconds on the clock to make it 81-78.

Abu was fouled with 0.2 left. He made the first free throw then intentionally missed the second. Martin got up over Meeks and tipped the ball towards the basket but it went wide.

The last two games in Raleigh between the two teams have been decided by three points. It was a “pretty good” game, Gottfried said, but one he wished his team had started with more intensity.

“I thought our second-half effort was amazing,” Gottfried said. “We played hard, we played to win. We just came up a few plays short.”