N.C. State is outside the NCAA tournament conversation for the first time in coach Mark Gottfried’s five seasons, but motivation hasn’t been a problem for the Wolfpack.
At 4-10 in the ACC, it would be easy for the players to mentally check out but they haven’t, Gottfried said. Saturday’s 77-74 home win over Clemson was a testament to that.
“I told the team in the locker room, obviously we’ve struggled and we know it but we’ve had great practices, we have had great spirit every day and great enthusiasm,” he said. “It says a lot about their character.”
Sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu had 17 points and 16 rebounds in the win over the Tigers (16-11, 9-6 ACC), who are five games ahead of the Wolfpack (14-13) in the ACC standings but four spots behind them in the RPI rankings.
After getting blown out in the second half of a 73-53 loss at Virginia last Monday, Abu said there was a need to prove the team still had a pulse.
“It’s basketball, games like (Virginia) do happen, but we wanted to come out here and show everyone we’re still here and we still have a lot to prove,” Abu said.
At No. 99 in the RPI, and with only two wins over teams in the top 50 of the RPI (No. 8 Miami, No. 35 Pittsburgh), N.C. State would have to close with a flurry just to climb back into the NCAA conversation.
But the Wolfpack does still have opportunities, starting with Wednesday’s home game with North Carolina (No. 7 in RPI), to pick up some quality wins. The Pack also has road games at Syracuse (55) and Notre Dame (29).
The Wolfpack will need more from star guard Cat Barber, who is in a two-game mini-slump. Barber had a season-low eight points in the win over Clemson and was held to 14 by the Cavaliers.
Barber has made just 21.7 percent (5 of 23) of his shots in the past two games. In the previous seven ACC games, he shot 52.3 percent (67 of 128) and averaged 30.1 points per game.
Gottfried predicted Barber, who leads the ACC in scoring (23.1 points per game), would be ready for the Tar Heels, who held him to nine points in a loss in Chapel Hill on Jan. 16.
Even if Barber gets back to scoring at his regular clip, the Wolfpack will have to approach the last four ACC games the same way it did Saturday’s with Clemson.
“If you put it in your mind you’re going to play hard no matter what, good things happen,” Abu said.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio