State Now

Defensive lapses, rebounding costly in NC State’s 88-74 loss at Illinois

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. stops the ball with his foot during the game against Illinois.
N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. stops the ball with his foot during the game against Illinois. Getty Images

N.C. State won its first road game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in 1999. The Wolfpack hasn’t won another since.

Illinois handed N.C. State its eighth straight road loss in the Challenge 88-74 on Tuesday night.

Some familiar problems N.C. State got away with in close wins — defense and rebounding — cropped up again and cost the Wolfpack, as did 19 turnovers.

Illinois (5-3) broke a three-game losing streak by shooting 67.9 percent in the second half and taking advantage of N.C. State’s gifts.

The same Illinois team shot 32.8 percent in a 72-61 loss to Florida State four days ago.

“We have to learn how to stay fundamentally sound,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “We can’t try to hit a home run every time you step up to the plate.”

Gottfried said his players were going for too many steals instead of trying to play fundamental defense. He also said the team panicked after it fell behind midway in the second half.

“We have to learn how to have more poise,” Gottfried said. “We’re down six points and we feel like we’re down 15. That’s what young teams do.”

A 3-pointer by Torin Dorn pulled N.C. State within one point, 46-45 at 16:05. It looked like the two teams would trade punches the rest of the way, after N.C. State held a slim 33-32 lead at the half, but Illinois kept knocking down open shots.

The Illini made 13 of its first 18 shots (72.2 percent) of the second half to make sure the Wolfpack didn’t break its road drought in the Challenge.

Senior guard Malcolm Hill led Illinois with 22 points and nine rebounds.

N.C. State got 17 points and 7 rebounds from Dorn, who made his first three 3-pointers, but it couldn’t overcome an off night from freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr.

Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said there would be an adjustment to the college game for Smith. That was the case on Tuesday in N.C. State’s first true road game of the season.

Smith had scored at least 20 points in four straight games, and a season-best 30 in last Saturday’s win over Loyola-Chicago, but he couldn’t get his game in gear against the Big Ten foe. Smith finished with 12 points but had as many turnovers (four) as field goals.

“Dennis is starting to see teams that are gearing up to guard him,” Gottfried said. “He’s going to keep learning.”

Many of Illinois’ second-half shots were like Leron Black’s from the foul line at 10:22 to put the Illini up 61-53.

Black was alone at the foul line and stepped into an uncontested jumper for an easy two points. And when Illinois did miss, it had a 11 to six advantage on the offensive glass.

“About midway through the second half, we gave up some easy second-chance buckets and some easy, wide-open shots at the high post,” Dorn said.

Despite a sloppy start, and falling behind by as many as seven points in the first half, N.C. State used a 13-4 run to surge to a 33-27 lead at 1:42 in the first half.

The Wolfpack turned the ball over 13 times and gave up seven offensive rebounds in the first half but was able to overcome its mistakes for a 33-32 halftime advantage.

Illinois scored the last five points of the half, the last two on a pair of free throws by Malcolm Hill after Ted Kapita was called for his third foul with 0.9 seconds left in the half.

Kapita came off the bench and provided some life with four rebounds and six points but he picked up two fouls in the last 90 seconds of the half. Kapita finished with 13 points and five rebounds.

N.C. State actually shot better for the game (52.8 percent) than Illinois (50) but offense wasn’t the problem in another road loss in the Big Ten Challenge.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio