If N.C. State was looking for a respite from pressure defense, after a difficult loss to then-No. 22 West Virginia, the Wolfpack won’t find one against Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs (8-3) will come to Raleigh on Tuesday night with a pair of outstanding perimeter defenders and a thirst for a win against a Power 5 conference team.
The Wolfpack (9-3) is trying to collect itself after a season-high 23 turnovers led to an 83-69 loss Saturday night to West Virginia in New York.
Before the bottom dropped out of the ball-handling department against the Mountaineers, N.C. State’s season high in turnovers was 15, which occurred in wins against Jacksonville and Wake Forest.
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“We just had no poise,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said after the loss. “I thought we got in a hurry. I thought their defense sped us up.”
Senior guards Kenneth “Speedy” Smith and Alex Hamilton both have 23 steals for Louisiana Tech. Only three ACC players have more steals this season.
Smith, in particular, has been a catalyst for the Bulldogs’ recent success. He ranks sixth nationally with 7.3 assists per game. Smith has only taken 40 shots. All four of Louisiana Tech’s other starters have attempted at least 60.
Fourth-year coach Michael White has led Louisiana Tech to back-to-back seasons with 27 and 29 wins, respectively, and two straight National Invitation Tournament appearances.
The Bulldogs, who have won their conference in the regular season the past two seasons, are hoping to build their NCAA resume, in case they stumble in the Conference USA tournament again. They nearly beat Syracuse on Dec. 14, losing 71-69 when Orange forward Rakeem Christmas hit a hook shot with 2.2 seconds left.
There were positives from N.C. State’s loss to West Virginia, the Wolfpack’s second defeat in three games. N.C. State shot a season-high 55.6 percent from the floor, making 20 of 36 shots, including eight of 14 from beyond the 3-point line.
Junior guard Trevor Lacey led N.C. State with 24 points, but he didn’t get enough help. Gottfried was especially dismayed at the production from his forwards.
Sophomore BeeJay Anya, who started, finished with four points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. Kyle Washington, who also started, had five points and two rebounds in 30 minutes. Freshman Abdul-Malik Abu finished with six points and two rebounds in 18 minutes and sophomore Lennard Freeman had no points and two rebounds in 10 minutes.
Lacey (17.8 points per game) and guards Ralston Turner (14.4) and Cat Barber (11.8) are the only N.C. State players who are averaging double figures. Washington is the highest-scoring forward at 6.4 points per game.
“We have to have a lot more – field goals, rebounds, offensive rebounds – all those things for us to be a really good team,” Gottfried said.
When N.C. State beat Tennessee on Wednesday, Gottfried employed a four-guard lineup for long stretches, using senior Desmond Lee and freshman Caleb Martin wth success in varying roles. Gottfried said he would consider going with a smaller lineup if it means more production.
The scoring can be recouped, but N.C. State finished with seven offensive rebounds, compared to 12 for West Virginia. N.C. State has only finished with more offensive rebounds than its opponent four times this season.
“At some point, maybe I need to look at playing four guards but we have to have more production,” Gottfried said. “It’s that simple.”