N.C. State went to New York hoping to build off its best performance of the season, a double-digit win against Tennessee.
Instead, the Wolfpack turned in its worst performance of the season Saturday night in a double-digit loss to No. 22 West Virginia at Madison Square Garden.
The Mountaineers (10-1) forced 23 turnovers with a hyper-aggressive full-court pressure and N.C. State (9-3) contributed to its own demise with a 21-of-35 effort from the free-throw line.
The result was an 83-69 loss to a Power 5 team, after beating a Power 5 team 83-72 at home Wednesday.
The tenor of N.C. State’s shaky performance was set in the first half. The Wolfpack turned the ball over 15 times, which equaled the most turnovers the Wolfpack had in any game this season.
N.C. State’s ball-security troubles were caused by a combination of laissez-faire officiating by a Big 12 crew (Brett Hampton, Donnie Eppley, Clarence Armstrong) and a poorly designed press-break, which had forward Abdul-Malik Abu way out of his comfort zone. It all added up to a 41-32 deficit at the half.
The bright spot for coach Mark Gottfried was his team didn’t give up after a disastrous start. Junior guard Trevor Lacey, who finished with a team-best 24 points, hit a 3-pointer at the 16-minute, 21-second mark to cut West Virginia’s lead to 44-43.
Lacey had a tip-in, of his own miss, at 10:32, which pulled N.C. State within 54-53.
But in the final 10 minutes, the old bugaboo of missed free throws cost the Wolfpack, after it had settled into how the game was being officiated.
N.C. State went 6-of-13 from the free-throw line in the final 10 minutes. West Virginia wasn’t much better from the line (14-of-21) but buried seven of 13 from 3-point range and had 12 offensive rebounds.
Lacey didn’t get enough help. Senior Ralston Turner, who had 33 in the win against Tennessee, finished with nine points and four turnovers. Cat Barber, who was completely discombobulated by the Mountaineers’ hand-checking pressure, finished with 16 points with five turnovers and a 7-of-11 effort from the free-throw line.
N.C. State’s season-long search from production from the forwards continues. Abu had six points to go with three turnovers, and Kyle Washington (five points) and BeeJay Anya (four) were ineffective.
The best news for N.C. State is it isn’t likely to play in another game that is officiated so loosely. The bad news was in its collective response to being pushed around it took too long to push back.