N.C. State was on the wrong side of history on Tuesday. Again.
The Wolfpack’s 113-96 loss to North Carolina wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as Saturday’s disaster against Virginia Tech, but it was still problematic.
The Wolfpack and Tar Heels have met 236 times over 107 years and N.C. State had never allowed that many points to UNC. Ever.
It topped the 107 points N.C. State gave up two years ago in a 51-point loss to the Tar Heels. It’s also the second-most points N.C. State has given up in any game.
At least N.C. State scored more than 24 points, which it somehow accomplished in Saturday’s loss to the Hokies. It was the worst scoring performance by any ACC team during the shot-clock era.
To second-year coach Kevin Keatts’ credit, N.C. State kept fighting on Tuesday even after falling behind by as many as 28 in the second half.
“I think everybody knows that my teams are going to compete and play hard,” Keatts said. “We aren’t always going to do everything right. Now, our biggest challenge is we have to start playing smarter.”
Smarter entails picking up the cues on the scouting report and translating them to the game. Keatts said he preached before the game about transition defense and rebounding.
UNC had a 20-6 advantage in fastbreak points and turned 14 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points.
“We’ve got to take the next step,” Keatts said. “We competed. We played but we got beat by a better team on their floor and we let them get to their strengths.”
N.C. State’s strengths are in question after losing four of the past five ACC games. Foul trouble benched junior guard Markell Johnson midway through the first half and a four-point deficit turned into 16. Johnson finished with six points and four assists in 18 minutes.
Guard Braxton Beverly rediscovered his 3-point stroke and scored 17 points. Forward D.J. Funderburk showed some signs of breaking out of his slump with 14 points and five rebounds. C.J. Bryce also had 15 points and N.C. State shot 50 percent (37 of 74) after turning in the worst shooting performance in ACC history (9 of 54, 16.7 percent) in the Virginia Tech loss.
But there were too many defensive breakdowns, particularly in transition, for the Wolfpack to pull off a repeat of its upset here last year.
Last year, N.C. State was able to stock up signature wins. This group more historic lowlights than notable wins (at home over Auburn).
Keatts noted N.C. State was only one game behind last year’s pace at the halfway mark of the ACC schedule.
The Wolfpack finished 11-7 last year after starting 5-4. This group has its work cut out for them after this recent spell.
“I think it’s time to do some soul-searching,” forward Wyatt Walker said. “I think we’re all in this together and if we look out for one another, there’s still a lot of basketball left and it’s not too late to turn things around.”
Keatts isn’t ready to give up the ghost yet, either.
“We’re still confident, and the group in that locker room feels confident, that we still have enough games in the ACC to put ourselves in a good spot,” Keatts said. “We’re playing for the next eight (game). We’ll play them one at a time and that’s what it is.”