As bad as N.C. State’s first ACC game went last Saturday, the Wolfpack’s second one was worse.
Notre Dame beat the Wolfpack by 30 on Wednesday, 88-58, taking control in the first half and leading by as many as 15. Clemson throttled N.C. State 78-62 last Saturday, holding the Wolfpack to a woeful 34.8 percent shooting.
“Being a senior,” N.C. State forward Abdul-Malik Abu said, “this hurts.”
N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts wants losses to hurt, particularly for veterans like Abu. Keatts’ first N.C. State team doesn’t have the depth or talent of the ACC’s top teams.
It’s going to take toughness and togetherness to avoid having the rest of the regular season look like N.C. State’s (10-5, 0-2 ACC) first two league losses.
“It starts with me, honestly,” Abu said Wednesday night. “As a senior, I’ve had experience. I’ve been here before. I’ve been in this league four years now. I need to do more. I take a lot of responsibility for what goes on on the court. The proof is in the pudding. I’ve got to do more. Maybe I’m not going to score the most points or rebound the ball. But I’ve got a find a way to help us do something.”
Abu, who’s 6-8 and 240 pounds, played 18 minutes against the Irish (12-3, 2-0) . He scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and had three fouls.
This came after he committed four fouls at Clemson on a day when he also produced four points and three rebounds.
Since Abu missed six of N.C. State’s first nine games with a sprained knee ligament, he’s working his way back to full strength. Keatts said he can only play Abu, who starts, for a few stretches per game.
Abu started against the Irish, but it still may take a few weeks before he can play 30 minutes per game.
But that isn’t going to stop Abu from asserting himself with his (mostly younger) teammates.
Following the Clemson loss, Keatts said he needed his “veterans to be veterans” and singled out Abu and fellow senior Lennard Freeman.
Keatts said he’s seen good signs in practice from his veterans and others. The problem is there’s been no carryover to games like Wednesday night.
“I didn’t think anybody played well particularly for us tonight,” Keatts said after the Notre Dame game. “What this group hasn’t done is be able to take what we do in practice and take it to the floor right now, especially in ACC play.”
N.C. State shot 36.7 percent against Notre Dame. The Wolfpack committed 15 turnovers. After leading 5-3 in the early minutes, the Wolfpack never led again.
Down by 12 points at halftime, the Wolfpack missed its first 11 shots of the second half. Keatts had hoped the team would make a solid push after halftime.
“I thought they did a tremendous job,” Keatts said. “They won all of the hustle plays. They got on the floor. They got to the free-throw line. They made shots. It wasn’t one of our better performances. We didn’t shoot the ball well from behind the arc.”
Those hustle plays would be a good place for N.C. State to start being more competitive. That’s where Abu can start making an impact even before he’s playing a full 30 minutes.
He wants to. He needs to.
N.C. State’s next game is against No. 2 Duke (13-1, 1-1) on Saturday at PNC Arena.
“After you lose you are disappointed,” Abu said. “You want to figure out how to fix things. I just try to tell my team to not keep their heads down. There are a lot more coming. There are a lot more teams. This is not the end of the world, but it’s not a good feeling at the same time.”