Sometimes you need numbers to explain a game and other times common sense will suffice.
N.C. State’s D.J. Funderburk supplied the latter after the Wolfpack’s 90-82 loss to North Carolina on Tuesday night.
“We’ve got to execute, man,” Funderburk said.
To the point and accurate. No. 15 N.C. State (13-2, 1-1 ACC) lost its sixth consecutive home game to the 12th-ranked Tar Heels and it was one the Wolfpack never led but had a chance in the second half to steal. Then came nearly a 5-minute stretch where N.C. State didn’t score and couldn’t stop UNC (12-3, 2-0) from scoring.
Simple really, as Funderburk had explained. A made shot here, a stop there — Cam Johnson was a scourge with timely 3-pointers — and maybe N.C. State starts 2-0 in the ACC and hands UNC coach Roy Williams a rare loss (he’s 29-4 now) in the series.
But after digging out of an early 19-5 hole, and missing its first eight shots, N.C. State couldn’t quite conjure the key play it needed in the second half. UNC’s rebounding margin (51-33) didn’t help. Neither did long ineffective stretches from N.C. State’s best player, guard Markell Johnson.
Johnson, who had 20 points in the comeback win at Miami last Thursday, had a brief spark in the second half but couldn’t sustain it. After being held scoreless in first half (in only 7 minutes), Johnson finished with 11 points in 18 minutes in the second half.
N.C. State has won with depth and balance this season but it needs Johnson to be a difference-maker. He was last year in Chapel Hill, when the Wolfpack won there but he wasn’t on Tuesday.
Braxton Beverly (21 points), C.J. Bryce (13 points) and Funderburk tried to offset the off night from Johnson. That can work against a lesser team but not one with UNC’s talent. Even with the slow start and second-half stalls, N.C. State still only lost by eight.
Basically, as it has proven all season, this is a different group than other versions of N.C. State. After it fell behind 79-69 with 5:44 left, it kept going. It was 82-78 with 64 seconds left but a missed 3-pointer by Bryce ended any hope of a miracle comeback.
“I like how we fought,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said. “I told our guys, if we clean up some things, we have a chance to be a really good basketball team.”
Common sense says the second-year N.C. State coach is right. Fill in some of the gaps and the Wolfpack can win a bunch of ACC games, maybe even the rematch in Chapel Hill in February.
N.C. State’s style and resilience impressed Williams.
“I like their club,” the UNC coach said. “I like the way they play. We both play fairly similar, to be honest with you.”
Also, true. UNC was a better team in the second half when it needed to be. N.C. State came up short. Sometimes it’s that simple.