N.C. State’s first road trip took a detour into the trees.
Purdue’s 7-foot-2 freshman Isaac Haas and 7-foot junior starter A.J. Hammons dominated the early part of Tuesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup, and freshman Vince Edwards had another big night as the Wolfpack dropped its first game 66-61.
It was the seventh consecutive road loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for the Wolfpack (6-1). Its only road win in the Challenge came at Purdue in 1999, a 61-59 victory.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried’s primary concern going into the game was how his team would defend Purdue’s interior players. The Wolfpack had been outrebounding opponents by more than 12 a game but hadn’t faced a team with the Boilermakers’ size.
His concern was valid. Haas finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, and Hammons added 15 points and five rebounds in front of a crowd of 12,023. Edwards scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the first half and added a game-high nine rebounds.
"They are a much different team than they were a year ago," Gottfried said of Purdue. "They are much better and defended us really well. They made it difficult to execute our offense at key times. Obviously, the combination of Hammons and Haas is something a lot of teams are going to have to deal with this year. It’s difficult."
After trailing by as many as nine in the first half, the Wolfpack took a 56-54 lead on a jumper by Kyle Washington with 7 minutes, 20 seconds left. Purdue then ripped off an 8-0 run, which included a pair of free throws by Haas and a 3-pointer by freshman P.J. Thompson, his first points of the game.
N.C. State’s leading scorer, Trevor Lacey, rallied the Wolfpack again. The junior guard drilled a 3-pointer and another long 2-pointer from the wing to bring N.C. State within 62-61 with 3:12 left.
But Hammons went to work on the block, scoring on Purdue’s next possession. Lacey took a contested, potential game-tying 3-pointer at the top the key with a minute left, but it banged off the back of the rim.
"I should’ve gotten to the goal," said Lacey, who was 3-for-6 from the 3-point line. "I made my last one, so I felt good shooting it. But I probably should’ve driven into the lane."
N.C. State had one more chance, trailing 64-61. But Lacey missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 13.6 seconds left. BeeJay Anya had the rebound briefly but lost it, and Hammons made two throws to provide the final margin.
It didn’t take a long look at the stat sheet to realize where N.C. State could have helped itself. The Wolfpack were just 2-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second half.
"Those kind of things right there usually jump up and bite you," Gottfried said.
Wolfpack guards Lacey, Cat Barber and Ralston Turner came into the game averaging 43.6 points a game. Lacey had 15, but Barber added just six and Turner battled foul trouble and finished with five points on 2-for-6 shooting.
Washington, a 6-9 junior, had a career-high 17 points and game-high nine rebounds for N.C. State.
Purdue’s advantage inside was evident early.
Hammons picked up his first foul less than two minutes into the game and was replaced by Haas, who scored a career-high 19 points last week in a loss to Kansas State in the Maui Invitational. Haas scored six of Purdue’s next nine points, and Hammons returned to score six in a row.
"Coach (Matt Painter) was telling A.J. and I that we had to be a low-post force," Haas said. "(N.C. State) only had one true post and we were able get in there and draw fouls and open up plays for other people because they had to help."
Purdue (6-1) led 21-13 midway through the first half, and Hammons and Haas had combined for 12 points and four rebounds. Sixteen of Purdue’s first 23 points came on second-chance opportunities.
"I thought we adjusted and defended OK around the basket," Gottfried said. "A.J. and Isaac combined for 28 points and 12 rebounds. If that’s one guy playing 40 minutes, he got 28 and 12. Not a lot of teams in America have that. They do a nice job of getting the ball in there to them. I thought the difference early was (Purdue’s) ability to get an offensive rebound. They went and got it and we didn’t."
Gottfried said effectiveness of Edwards, who was 6-for-8 from the field and 3-for-4 from the 3-point line, kept the Wolfpack off balance defensively.
"He’s a good player and forced some matchup issues for us," he said.
The Wolfpack kept it close in the first half despite Lacey, its leading scoring coming in, having just five points. N.C. State took advantage of its chances at the free-throw line, hitting 10 of 11 to just 3 of 5 for Purdue.
Washington provided a spark off the bench with eight first-half points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
It was the first loss for N.C. State against Purdue in five meetings. In addition to the 1999 meeting at Purdue, the 1974 N.C. State national championship team won 86-81 at Mackey Arena as David Thompson scored 26 points.
Gottfried was also familiar with the surroundings. His 2001 Alabama team won at Purdue in the NIT, and his first Murray State team lost at Purdue in the 1995-96 season.
N.C. State is back at home Saturday against Wake Forest. Its next true road game is Jan. 7 at Virginia.