N.C. State is not scheduled to play another game at the Carrier Dome until 2018. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Fifth-year senior Michael Gbinije scored a career-high 34 points to help Syracuse hand the Wolfpack its fifth straight loss, 75-66, at the dome on Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore guard Caleb Martin scored 18 points but the Wolfpack (14-15, 4-12 ACC) couldn’t break a hex at Syracuse’s home court that goes back to the 2005 NCAA tournament. N.C. State has lost three road games to Syracuse and two Sweet 16 games, including last year’s 75-65 loss to Louisville in the NCAA tournament, in the building since then.
Gbinije, who started his career at Duke, made eight 3-pointers, including one after N.C. State had cut what was a 17-point Syracuse lead down to five points.
A pair of free throws by sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu (14 points, 12 rebounds) pulled the Wolfpack within 51-46 with 5:26 to play. Gbinije immediately responded with a 3 to push the Orange’s lead back to eights points.
“He hit some tough shots for them at important times,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I thought we did a good job defending, other than on him, and even some of the shots he made were contested.”
Freshman Malachi Richardson added 13 points and seven assists for the Orange (19-10, 9-7), who are fighting for a return to the NCAA tournament a year after it self-imposed a postseason ban. The win ends a two-game losing streak. Gbinije, in his last home game, helped the Orange build a little momentum for Monday’s road game at North Carolina.
While Gbinije, who transferred after his freshman season at Duke in 2012, soared, N.C. State struggled from the 3-point line. The Wolfpack went 4 of 17 from 3 with Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan going a combined 3 of 15.
Martin started for the first time since Jan. 13 in the place of Rowan, who has been dealing with a sore left foot. Rowan hadn’t practiced since N.C. State’s 80-68 loss to North Carolina on Wednesday, Gottfried said.
“We have to watch him and watch his foot and see how he does,” Gottfried said of Rowan, who started the previous 27 games.
Rowan had 10 points in 25 minutes but also had five of the Wolfpack’s 15 turnovers.
Martin scored a team-high 18 points and added eight rebounds and three steals and started with his twin brother Cody for the first time this season.
“Caleb played with great energy,” Gottfried said. “He played hard, he got deflections and made shots. He gave us a great lift.”
N.C. State couldn’t handle Syracuse’s zone in the first half. The Wolfpack shot just 34.4 percent in the first half and trailed for all but the opening minute. N.C. State was down 28-20 after another Gbinije 3 with 2:40 left in the half.
Abu scored four straight points to make it 28-25 with 59 seconds left in the half but Richardson made a pair of 3s before the half. The Orange quickly opened up a 14-point lead early in the second half, and grew to as many as 17.
Junior guard Cat Barber finished with 15 points but did not have an assist. After playing every minute of the first half, Gottfried gave Barber an extended break early in the second half for six minutes.
“We’ve got to be able to create shots for other people, especially against the zone,” Gottfried said.
N.C. State dropped its fourth straight ACC road game and fell to 1-7 on the road in league play. Even before N.C. State’s loss on Saturday, Georgia Tech’s win at Boston College earlier in the day guaranteed the Wolfpack will be one of the last four seeds in the ACC tournament and will be playing in the opening round on Tuesday, March 7 in Washington.