The result looked depressingly familiar for N.C. State.
It was the same as the North Carolina game. Same as the Notre Dame game.
N.C. State dropped another close home game on Wednesday night, 51-47 to No. 2 Virginia.
Another close game that could have bolstered the Wolfpack’s NCAA tournament chances, another opportunity missed.
That’s three losses by a total of nine points to three of the top four teams in the ACC.
“We’re not far off, we’re close, we’re close,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “We’re right there. We don’t need to reinvent who we are. We just have to get a little bit better.”
N.C. State (14-11, 5-7 ACC) got as close as a Trevor Lacey layup attempt with 7.5 seconds left. The Wolfpack trailed 47-45 after Lacey buried a 3-pointer, and had a chance to tie it up.
Lacey, who finished with a team-best 14 points, went the length of the floor, found his way to the rim but couldn’t close the deal.
Virginia made the necessary free throws in the final seconds to pick up its 29th ACC win in its past 32 games.
“I feel like I let my team down,” Lacey said. “I missed a wide-open layup. I came down and made a contested 3-pointer, but I can’t make a layup.”
N.C. State has lost six of eight since notching a signature win over Duke, No. 4 in the Ratings Percentage Index, on Jan. 11. The Wolfpack’s hopes for a fourth straight NCAA tournament trip fade with each close call.
“We just need to finish,” Lacey said. “We’ve seen it for ourselves, we’re right there.”
Virginia, ranked No. 3 in the RPI, has had no such problems. The Cavaliers were able to win without junior wing Justin Anderson, who broke a finger on his left hand in the Cavaliers’ previous game.
Virginia forward Mike Tobey scored nine of his 11 points in the second half. The Cavaliers (22-1, 10-1) created some separation when N.C. State’s Caleb Martin was called for a flagrant foul with 5 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the second half.
A dunk by N.C. State forward BeeJay Anya, after a Martin steal and assist, cut Virginia’s lead to 38-37.
As Martin was running back down the floor, he collided with Virginia’s Evan Nolte. After a video review, Martin was called for the foul, which gave Virginia two free throws and the ball.
Gottfried didn’t like the call.
“I’ve watched the tape, I have great respect for the crew but I disagree with the call,” Gottfried said. “I thought Caleb was trying to avoid running into him. He lowered his shoulder only because he was trying to move to his left and get out of the way.”
Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon made one of the two free throws for the Cavaliers and Tobey had a 3-point play to stretch their margin to 42-37.
“We go from being down one to down five,” Gottfried said. “In a game of this magnitude at that point in the game, that was just huge, it was monumental.”
N.C. State struggled to find points against Virginia’s stifling defense. Even without Anderson, one of their best defenders, Virginia held N.C. State to 33.3 percent shooting (19 of 57) from the floor.
Lacey and guard Cat Barber (11 points) combined to make 11 of 27 shots, the rest of the team was 8 of 30.
As a team, N.C. State was just 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
Virginia didn’t shoot much better (19 of 51, 37.3 percent) but got some timely contributions from Tobey to go with a game-high 15 points from Brogdon. The Cavaliers used 15 offensive rebounds, and a 43-31 advantage on the glass, to close out the win.
For N.C. State, it will have to regroup after a difficult punch. The trip to Louisville, No. 12 in the RPI, on Saturday will be no easier.
The Wolfpack is running out of chances but not hope, Lacey said.
“Why would we give up?” Lacey said. “That’s not smart.”