The good feelings lasted all of 18 hours and change.
In the wake of its historic upset of Arizona, N.C. State was 108 seconds away from the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Three turnovers and two missed shots later, the Wolfpack suffered its first loss of the season, 64-60 to Northern Iowa.
“I told our guys it was going to come down to the last few plays, and they made a few more plays than we did at the end,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “It wasn’t a great game for us. I think we’ll learn from that. I can see our guys maturing from that part of it.”
N.C. State (5-1) now faces Tennessee in the third-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Omer Yurtseven had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his second career double-double, but the Wolfpack shot 34 percent from the field and couldn’t get a stop when it mattered down the stretch. Northern Iowa (5-1) closed out the game on an 8-2 run, turning the Wolfpack’s late lead into a loss.
The Panthers opened the season with a 27-point loss at North Carolina and N.C. State led by as many as seven late in the second half but struggled to get good shots and take care of the basketball. In one critical sequence, as Northern Iowa took control, Markell Johnson turned it over, the Wolfpack had a 30-second violation, Abdul-Malik Abu turned it over and Al Freeman missed a jump shot and a 3-pointer.
N.C. State, which had forced 20-plus turnovers in its first four games, ended up forcing 11 while committing 14 of its own. A bigger problem: Northern Iowa controlled the tempo throughout and packed the middle, forcing N.C. State to take 30 3-pointers. The Wolfpack only made eight.
“Sometimes we figured it out, sometimes we couldn’t, so it was an up-and-down game,” Yurtseven said.
It couldn’t have been a more up-and-down two days in this tournament for N.C. State. The Wolfpack still has a chance to exit winners, but not champions.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock