N.C. State’s afterglow from Saturday’s 99-point track meet explosion against Wake Forest lasted to halftime of Monday night’s matchup against No. 7 Virginia. But after intermission, with Cat Barber unable to get back on track in his matchup against fellow ACC Player of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon, the Wolfpack wilted and watched a 31-31 game crumble into a 20-point loss.
N.C. State missed all nine of its 3-point shots in the second half, while Virginia hit six after halftime to send the Wolfpack home with a 73-53 loss that dropped coach Mark Gottfried’s team’s record to 13-13, 3-10 in the ACC. Barber, who had erupted for 38 points against the Demon Deacons, was limited to 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting, with only two assists and five turnovers.
N.C. State’s 53 points were a season low, and for Gottfried, it was a second-half collapse like no other this season.
“We haven’t had a lot of halves like that. That second half was a tough half for us,” Gottfried said. “At halftime, it’s 31 all, and the first half was probably Cat’s worst half of basketball. So I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Hey, we’re tied at 31, without Cat doing a lot, and he’s done so much for our team. But we had a bad start to the second half. We missed some open shots, they made some and got on a little run. I thought we fought back there for a little while, and then we kind of fell out a little bit. That was to their credit. They played like they were a top-10 team in the second half.”
The loss was the ninth consecutive regular-season defeat against Virginia for the Wolfpack, which got 12 points from Cody Martin, nine from Lennard Freeman and eight from BeeJay Anya on a night when whatever shots came open in the second half frequently clanged untrue. After shooting 52.2 percent in the first half, State missed 17 of its 24 second-half (29.2 percent) field-goal attempts.
The Wolfpack couldn’t have started any stronger, hitting its first six shots against a typically stingy Cavaliers defense and scoring on its first seven possessions to claim a 15-9 lead. But if the Cavaliers were still brooding over their last-second loss at Duke and grumbling over what they perceived as the officials’ generous interpretation of Grayson Allen’s multi-step drive to the basket, they shook it off by the first media timeout of Monday’s game.
Virginia took its first lead of the game with 10:06 remaining in the first half on a Marial Shayok 3-pointer, and the Cavaliers’ defense made things uncomfortable for Barber, who was unable to maneuver past the Virginia defenders hedging in the key to protect against his drives.
“They did a great job,” Gottfried said of Virginia’s defense on Barber. “I thought collectively as a team they kind of doubled every ball screen and stayed with him for a long time. They did a great job of cutting down some of his opportunities to penetrate.”
Brogdon and his backcourt mate London Perrantes carried the scoring load for the Cavaliers, with Perrantes adding 19 points and five assists. The two veteran guards combined to hit nine 3-pointers on just 15 shots behind the arc. It was Brogdon’s defense against Barber, though, that drew the praise of Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who sounded as if he were subtly campaigning for Brogdon’s ACC Player of the Year candidacy.
“He was complete tonight, and I love complete players,” Bennett said. “We did a good job of helping him. He did a good job defensively on [Brandon] Ingram and Grayson Allen and was matched up against a different type of player tonight. I was really pleased. Malcolm was locked in, and when they set ball screens, we did a pretty good job of sealing Cat. We know how prolific he is.”
Guarded primarily by the taller Brogdon, Barber drilled a 3-pointer in the 6-5 senior’s face at the 15:27 mark of the half to give N.C. State that 15-9 lead, but he went on to miss four of his six first-half shots and turned the ball over four times before halftime. After the game, Barber credited Brogdon for limiting his scoring opportunities but acknowledged that he had to face a lot more than one defender every time he tried to drive.
“They were helping a lot, helping on me a lot, so I couldn’t find my shot, so I tried to pass the ball,” Barber said. “They just did a good job of locking up. It was a challenge. He’s bigger, with that wingspan, but I felt like if it was more me and him one-on-one, I could have did more. But it’s a team game. He got a lot of help from his guys, and their plan worked.”
The Cavaliers started the second half on a 6-0 run capped by a Brogdon jumper over Cody Martin, and coach Mark Gottfried quickly called a timeout at the 17:31 mark. The timeout was followed by a turnover and a Brogdon steal that culminated in that rarest of college basketball unicorns: a Virginia fast-break dunk, by Anthony Gill off a Brogdon miss. Barber stopped the bleeding briefly with a baseline drive that cut Virginia’s lead to 39-33, but another Brogdon 3-pointer and an Isaiah Wilkins dunk off another fast break pushed Gottfried to call a second timeout at the 15:24 mark with his team down 44-33.
With Brogdon limiting Barber’s looks at the basket and the Cavaliers’ defense tightening its grip, Virginia pushed its lead to 24 points on three consecutive 3-pointers by point guard London Perrantes, the final one swishing through with 2:49 remaining. After the first of those Perrantes’ 3-pointers, Barber turned to the sideline and raised his palms in frustration.
“I still have to do a better job of getting through the screens. They run off a lot of screens and it’s tough to chase somebody through a lot of screens,” Barber said. “I felt like it was tough, and that one he hit, he was deep. He was just feeling it.”
N.C. State’s seventh consecutive loss at John Paul Jones Arena left the Wolfpack looking ahead to Saturday’s home game Clemson, hoping to re-discover the offensive touch that abandoned them in Charlottesville.
“You just bounce back and play,” Gottfried said. “I loved how we played the first half of the road. We just didn’t have a very great second half. For our team, we haven’t had very many. I don’t know if we have had any halves where we played that poorly. I think Virginia had a lot to do with that, no doubt about it. We’re going to kind of flush this one out.”