There are little moments in any two-point game that add up to the win.
N.C. State has let too many of those moments pass them by this season but not on Tuesday in Atlanta.
The Wolfpack (15-14, 4-12 ACC) used a key sequence at the end of the first half, to protect its lead, and ultimately provide the difference in a 71-69 road win over the Yellow Jackets (16-12, 7-8).
Coach Mark Gottfried has often lamented one of his team’s problems this season is getting overwhelmed when an opponent makes a run and not understanding how to fight back when things go wrong.
At Wake Forest on Feb. 11, N.C. State started the game poorly but was down 36-24 with 2:20 left in the first half.
Instead of cutting into Wake’s lead, N.C. State let the game get away from them in the final 2 minutes and saw Wake take a 44-24 advantage at the half and went on to win 88-58.
On Tuesday, N.C. State built a 33-23 lead with 3:25 left the half. That’s when Georgia Tech, fighting for its NCAA tournament life, made a run to cut into N.C. State’s margin.
A jumper by Tadric Jackson with 45 seconds left pulled the Jackets within five at 35-30. Just like the Wake game — or at Louisville, or at Boston College, or against UNC (twice) or Miami (twice) — N.C. State had a choice. Respond or get run over.
We had the dunk by Ted, Maverick had the steal. I thought those plays were big.
In the final 11 seconds, freshman guard Markell Johnson — in his first college start — drove and fed freshman forward Ted Kapita for an alley-oop.
On the subsequent inbounds play, sophomore guard Maverick Rowan stole the ball and was able to make a layup with 4 seconds left to push N.C. State’s lead back to 39-30.
“I thought that was big,” Gottfried said after the game. “We had the dunk by Ted, Maverick had the steal. I thought those plays were big.”
N.C. State did have its share of problems at the end of the game, protecting what was a 63-50 lead with 2:20 left.
The Wolfpack fouled four times and turned the ball over four times in the final 2:15. The Jackets got a clean look from 3 at the buzzer but Jackson missed the shot.
Ultimately, the positive sequence at the end of the first half outweighed the negative from the end of the second half.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio