Georgia Tech vs. N.C. State: 4 takeaways from Yellow Jackets’ victory over Wolfpack

Despite a valiant effort in the second half, N.C. State lost to Georgia Tech, 90-83, dropping to 11-10 on the season and 1-7 in the ACC on Wednesday night at PNC Arena. It was the Wolfpack’s fourth straight home loss and the Yellow Jackets’ first road victory in the conference.

Cat Barber made the start after suffering a knee injury against Duke, but the Pack couldn’t find a way to rally around him. Defensive lapses and ineffective shooting outside of Barber and Abdul-Malik Abu (22 points, 11 rebounds) did State in once again in ACC play.

Before the Pack’s next home game against a surging Miami team, let’s take a look at what we learned from the loss to Georgia Tech.


Cautious Cat

NC State guard Cat Barber (12) walks on the court after a play against Georgia Tech during the second half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. Georgia Tech won 90-83. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)
NC State guard Cat Barber (12) walks on the court after a play against Georgia Tech during the second half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. Georgia Tech won 90-83. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)

Don’t get me wrong, he may have finished with 36 points on the night, but it was clear from the start Barber wasn’t completely healthy. The Pack’s floor general looked timid at the beginning of the game, rarely driving to the basket with his normal veracity.

Barber settled for outside shots with limited cuts with mixed results. During the first half, Barber missed his first three shots before hitting his next four. He finished at 5-of-13 and finished at 13-of-28 on the night.

While Barber was able to settle into a groove and did eventually slash to the basket twice late in the second half, it was all for naught. But if the outside shot is working like it did during streaks for Barber on Wednesday night, he can still be one of the most prolific scorers in the conference.


Abu Coming Into His Own

NC State forward Abdul-Malik Abu (0) dunks near Georgia Tech forward Charles Mitchell (0) during the second half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. Georgia Tech won 90-83. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)
NC State forward Abdul-Malik Abu (0) dunks near Georgia Tech forward Charles Mitchell (0) during the second half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. Georgia Tech won 90-83. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)

For those who haven’t noticed, Abu is becoming a key ingredient for the Wolfpack’s offense.

Unfortunately, that offense is struggling outside of Barber and Abu. The sophomore big man combined with Barber to finish with 58 of the State’s 83 points along with 15 of the team’s 31 rebounds.

Still, Abu finished with his eighth double-double in the last 11 games. His growth as a sophomore might not do much for this team this season, but could go a long way for next year. Considering Barber will likely return, having a more developed Abu inside with Dennis Smith outside should be encouraging for N.C. State fans.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make this season any better. 2017 feels like a long way away at this point.


Cold From Deep

The Wolfpack fell behind in the first half after going 0-of-5 from behind the arch, including two misses from Maverick Rowan. He finally found his touch in the second half with two straight threes to put State within striking distance, but couldn’t sustain it late in the game.

Overall, State finished at 6-of-14 from three against Georgia Tech thanks to some desperation threes that fell in the second half. Suffice to say, it wasn’t enough when the defense isn’t making stops on the other end.

On the night, State finished slightly better than GT from behind the arch, but didn’t come out of the gate with any accuracy from deep. Teams like Miami and Duke – two of the Pack’s next three opponents – will certainly make them pay with size down low to pull in defensive rebounds.


What’s Next?

Why did State need this win so bad? Well, let’s just say the upcoming slate doesn’t look friendly.

Up next, the Pack hosts No. 15 Miami (16-3) on Saturday after the Hurricanes trounced Duke Monday night. After falling to a team that had yet to win a conference game on the road, State gets to tangle with a Miami team that is 1-2 away from home this season.

For a team reliant on just two scorers, Abu will have to battle inside with 7-footer Tonye Jekiri in the paint. That, my friends, is not a good matchup. And it doesn’t get any easier for Barber, who will need to be at full strength against Sheldon McClellan.

The Canes are a senior-laden team with Jekiri and McClellan serving as just two stars along with Angel Rodriguez. State has pulled off more surprising wins this season over Pittsburgh and, well, just Pittsburgh. But with the insanity of the ACC this year, anything is possible.

Duke vs. N.C. State: 4 takeaways from Blue Devils’ 88-78 win over Wolfpack

Ice and snow filled the roads outside, but both N.C. State and Duke got red hot inside PNC Arena on Saturday afternoon. After a blistering start from the Wolfpack in the first half, Duke sealed the win to snap a three-game losing streak in a 88-78 win.

Grayson Allen led the Blue Devils with 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, finishing 11-of-17 from the floor. Brandon Ingram put on a similar show with 25 points and seven rebounds to finally earn a much-needed victory for the Devils.

It was a tale of two halves for Cat Barber, who finished with 19 points – scoring just three in the second half. An apparent knee injury had a lot to do with the drought in the second half, leaving Abdul-Malik Abu (14 points), Cody Martin (12 points) and others to pick up the slack.

Despite the blustering conditions outside, the Wolfpack’s fan base showed up in full force – something that didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Mark Gottfried.

“I also want to say thank you to the Wolfpack Nation,” Gottfried said. “Wow. I am so proud of our fans, I’m so proud of the way they came out today. With the weather, and the governor making a statement, our fans came. I’m just so proud of our fans.”

As both teams head their separate ways before another matchup on Feb. 6 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, here’s a look at what we learned from Duke’s significant win.


Duke’s Post Problems Continue, Help On the Way?

The Blue Devils may have ran away in the second half thanks to their outside shooting, but it was clear there was a mismatch in the post. Marshall Plumlee finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, serving as the lone inside presence yet again for Duke.

Luckily, it appears help might be on the way. Amile Jefferson, who has missed the last 11 games with a foot injury, was seen walking without a boot or crutches. His return would be massive for a Duke team that has struggled in ACC play thus far.

“We’re trying to get him now to walk properly,” Krzyzewski said of Jefferson. “There’s still no timetable. The bone has healed pretty well, but he’s still not there.”

Thanks to the development of Plumlee down low, the Devils might be in a better position come tournament time. But with games against Miami, Louisville and Virginia before Valentine’s Day, getting Jefferson back soon could mean a substantial boost for Duke’s seed in March.


Blue Devils Avoid Epic Loss

Losing three straight for Duke was shocking, regardless of injuries and depth issues the team has dealt with. However, dropping to 3-4 in conference after a loss at PNC Arena would have been crippling given the upcoming schedule.

Duke didn’t lose, but it still has a chance to drop outside of the Associated Press top 25. After 166 straight weeks inside the AP poll, the Syracuse loss will still likely leave Mike Krzyzewski’s squad on the outside looking in.

Is this team better than its current ranking? With a healthy Jefferson, yes. Without him, nope.


Cat Barber Continues to Amaze

Regardless of where this N.C. State team ends up in the ACC, nobody can take anything away from Cat Barber. The Pack’s only surefire consistent star is a contender for the ACC Player of the Year despite being on a team that is currently 1-6 in conference play.

How crucial is Barber? His knee injury in the second half – which he played through – signaled a huge swing in the game. After colliding with a Duke player early in the first half, Barber was limited to zero points on just two shots in the final 15 minutes.

“I think he got hurt a little bit too,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I hope he’s not hurt but you could see something happened. That type of thing happens to us too and they’re marginalized with that as well. They can’t afford to not have him on the court – he’s one of the best players in the country.

“He’s so dangerous, he’s really damn good.”

After scoring 16 points in the first half, Barber’s ineffectiveness left the supporting cast to carry State. It couldn’t. Barber’s sharp shooting and passing skills helped the Pack shoot 6-of-9 from three in the first half – including six straight at one point. State shot 1-of-11 from behind the arch following the injury.

Barber will need to be at full health against Georgia Tech to build confidence before facing Miami.


What’s Next?

For Duke, the upcoming seven games can make or break the entire season. Traveling to Miami then Georgia Tech before returning home to N.C. State, Louisville and Virginia is tough enough. Then tack on a road rivalry game against North Carolina then taking on the Cardinals at Louisville.

That, my friends, is called murderer’s row.

If the Devils survive and get Jefferson back somewhere in the middle, a top-five seed in the ACC tourney still seems attainable. Finishing .500 or worse over that stretch might lead to an unprecedented Tuesday start in the first round.

Meanwhile, State is all but assured to start on Tuesday of the ACC tournament after dropping to 11-9 on the season. With games coming up against Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State and Duke, the Pack can only hope to come away with two wins over the next two weeks.

Even after a strong showing from both on Saturday, that’s about all the Pack and its fan base can hope for at this point.

N.C. State tabs Eliah Drinkwitz as offensive coordinator

After relieving offensive coordinator Matt Canada off his duties earlier this offseason, N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren needed to make a splash with his next hire. On Monday afternoon, he did just that with the announcement that Eliah Drinkwitz will join the staff as the OC and quarterback’s coach.

Drinkwitz comes to Raleigh after a two-year tenure with Boise State, but just one season as an offensive coordinator under his belt. That one season with the Broncos, however, was a sensational one. Drinkwitz called the shots for the 17th-ranked scoring and 19th-ranked passing offense in the country.

Oh, and the Broncos posted 55 points against Northern Illinois – Doeren’s former team – in the Poinsettia Bowl. That background was good enough to earn him a three-year deal with a $450,000 annual salary from N.C. State, per associate athletics director Fred Demarest.

Dave Doeren has a lot of pressure to perform next season after a 7-6 season in 2015. Image courtesy of @BackingThePack.
Dave Doeren has a lot of pressure to perform next season after a 7-6 season in 2015. Image courtesy of @BackingThePack.

Prior to his two years in Boise – the first as a tight ends coach – Drinkwitz spent two seasons with Arkansas State. His teams went 10-3 and 8-5 with back-to-back wins in the Bowl. Those seasons were spent under Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin, two extremely successful head coaches.

The biggest impact felt from the Drinkwitz hire might be on the Wolfpack’s next quarterback. Whether it’s Jalan McClendon or Jakobi Meyers – both rising sophomores – the Pack will have a new signal-caller in a crucial season for Doeren.

With the Drinkwitz hire, Doeren can have confidence he can get the job done.

After all, his one season as an OC was spent with a freshman quarterback. In just 10 games under center, Brett Rypien passed for 3,353 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also showed growth late in the season with six touchdowns to just one pick over his final three games.

The growth of either McClendon or Meyers won’t have to be immediate, necessarily. Games against William & Mary and Old Dominion at home should give either time to develop. The road game at East Carolina doesn’t look easy, per se, but it will be against Scottie Montgomery coaching his second game.

Drinkwitz also has a stable of running backs that includes Matt Dayes, Johnny Frasier, Reggie Gallaspy and Dakwa Nichols. That’s an impressive backfield, even with a wide-eyed QB.

Though he has just 10 years of coaching experience overall and only one as a primary offensive coordinator, Drinkwitz clearly has experience in this situation. Needing to groom a young quarterback against ACC opponents, State’s new OC has his hands full this offseason.

What he’s able to accomplish in just one season might shape the future for both Doeren and N.C. State as a whole. No pressure, right?

Deacons topple Wolfpack at home: 4 takeaways from Wake Forest’s 77-74 win over NC State

Two downtrodden ACC teams matched up on Sunday night at Joel Coliseum, with Wake Forest coming away with a much-needed 77-74 victory. The Deacons notched their first conference win while the Wolfpack were sent back to Raleigh at 0-3 for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Danny Manning’s squad was paced by Devin Thomas, who finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds, three rebounds and three assists. Bryant Crawford, Konstantinos Mitoglou and Codi Miller-McIntyre all contributed double-digit points in the win.

Cat Barber once again led the Pack with a game-high 26 points and seven assists, but his effort was nullified by a lack of production around him. Maverick Rowan reached 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting from behind the arc. Abdul-Malik Abu had 11 points, but offered nothing on the boards with two rebounds.

Here’s three more takeaways from NC State’s loss:


Desperation, anyone?

From the opening tip in this game, it was clear that neither team felt it needed this win. Here’s the thing — both teams did need this one. Coming in at 0-2 apiece, the Pack and Deacs desperately needed to finally pencil a W next to an ACC opponent on the schedule.

Wake finally found that desperation mode in the second half. Then NC State did, but couldn’t sustain its energy.

After being up 27-25 at the half, Wake went on a 13-0 run to start the second. The promise the Deacs showed in non-conference play to start the season finally showed up. State responded with a run of its own, but Wake answered to take another double-digit lead with five minutes left.

In order for either team to climb back into the discussion as a middle-tier ACC program, it will need to play with some desperation moving forward. Otherwise, neither have a chance to enter February with a shot at an NCAA Tournament appearance.


Foul trouble boiling over

Abdul-Malik Abu is a significant contributor for NC State, but foul trouble limited him on Sunday night. Image courtesy of @PackPride.
Abdul-Malik Abu is a significant contributor for NC State, but foul trouble limited him on Sunday night. Image courtesy of @PackPride.

Whichever way you cut it for NC State, the Pack is struggling in the foul department. Coming off a game where the Pack missed 11 free-throw shots against Louisville, State couldn’t stay out of its own way with both Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya got into early foul trouble with Anya eventually fouling out.

On the other side, Wake is finding strength in getting to the free-throw line with 19 points from the charity stripe on Sunday night. While they missed nine shots from the line, the Deacs limited State to just 10 attempts at freebies — a huge swing in what was ultimately a three-point margin.

If NC State is going to eventually turn things around, it needs to be more prominent offensively in the paint and smarter on the other end. Wake may have found a secret to limiting the Pack’s offensive role players while powering its way to finally getting in the win column in conference play.


Keeping it close

In eight games decided by six points or less, Wake Forest is 8-0. The Deacons have done so against opposition like Indiana, UCLA and LSU, so it’s not just over weaker teams. But with lopsided losses to Louisville and Duke, Manning’s squad is still far from competing for anything substantial in the ACC.

However, in a year where several of the Deacs leading scorers are freshmen and sophomores, respectability is massive. After years of substandard results, this resume is already impressive.

On the NC State side, the close losses are racking up. The Pack’s three losses to start ACC play are by a combined 13 points. Luckily, State now plays a Florida State program that’s also 0-3 in the conference on Wednesday at home.

Another loss to a previously winless ACC team on Wednesday? That could very well lead to an 0-5 mark with a trip to Chapel Hill on the docket on Saturday. Oh, and the Tar Heels have a full week of rest before taking on the Pack.


What’s Next?

NC State’s aforementioned date with FSU could lead to its first win while the UNC matchup doesn’t look promising. With both teams heading in opposite directions, the Heels will be ready to feast on this State squad.

For Wake, there are two winnable games coming up against Virginia Tech on the road and Syracuse at home. The Hokies were brought back to earth by Duke in a 82-58 loss and even Jim Boeheim can’t save this Cuse team from an 0-4 start to the ACC slate.

After a disappointing start, Wake has a chance to go on a run before another gauntlet stretch against UNC, Miami and Virginia. Getting to .500 in January would be huge for Wake — it would be a dream come true for State at this point.

Final play a tough pill to swallow for N.C. State in close loss to Louisville

With 10 seconds remaining and N.C. State down 75-72, Cat Barber drove to the paint. Rather than shooting a three-pointer or looking for an open man on the wing, the team’s unquestioned best player took matters into his own hands looking for a finish and a foul.

He didn’t get it. He didn’t even get the shot off. Instead, he ostensibly ended the game by turning the ball over. It was an ugly finish to an ugly game that the Wolfpack somehow — despite shooting 36.1 percent from the floor — found itself still in late.

The decision from his star drew some question from coach Mark Gottfried.

“In hindsight, I would have preferred an open three,”Gottfried said with a smile. “I thought there was still enough time if we score there to cut it to one. … I watched the tape and it clearly went off of Cat. So they got it right.

“That’s just the way it kind of falls.”

This isn’t a complete criticism of Barber. His importance for the Pack cannot be overstated. If he’s off so is NC State.

Given Barber played nearly 39 minutes again for the Wolfpack, it’s not fair to harp on his final possession. He got a breather for just over one minute in the first half — his most in the last six games — but is asked to do more than nearly any other player in the country.

So why did he get this rare respite?

“I thought he was tired,” Gottfried said of the decision to take Barber out. “And we got down about seven or eight pretty quick and had to get him back in there. The way they press and the way he had to work to get the ball up the floor, I thought he needed a breather.”

State lost the game 77-72, but you can’t put the blame on Barber’s decision late. The junior finished with 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. He and Maverick Rowan — who finished with 17 points — were the only perfect shooters at the line.

Taking away Barber and Rowan’s perfect line, the Pack finished 12-of-23 from the charity stripe. It was the foul shot Barber never got the chance to take that hurt the worst. Instead, Damion Lee got redemption on the other end with two made free throws to seal the game for the Cardinals.

After all, it’s not exactly Barber that needs to improve. Despite being the leading scorer in the ACC, his supporting cast lacks punch. Abdul-Malik Abu is getting the job done inside and Rowan is coming on strong, but there isn’t anyone to trust with the final shot outside of Barber.

The Wolfpack know it and — in much worse news — so do their opponents.

At 0-2 in the ACC, the Pack needs to pull off some close games if it wants to string together wins.

“We’re a team that I believe is not far off,” Gottfried said. “We’re close, but we’re not there yet. … We’ve just got to find a way to get over the hump here.”

Pack rally falls short against Louisville: 4 takeaways NC State’s 77-72 loss

RALEIGH — NC State dropped its first home ACC game of the season against the No. 16 Louisville Cardinals, 77-72, at PNC Arena on Thursday despite a wild comeback that had State within three points in the final 10 seconds.

Cat Barber drove to the basket rather than shooting a three, but was denied at the rim and not given a whistle on a close call at the hoop. Louisville got the ball back and finished State off with two Damion Lee free throws to sneak out of Raleigh with a conference victory.

With the loss, the Wolfpack fell to 0-2 in the conference for the first time under Mark Gottfried with the loss.

Barber finished with 20 points and four assists, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Cardinals (13-2, 2-0 ACC). The Pack (10-5, 0-2) also got support from Abdul Malik-Abu inside, who finished with a double-double, his sixth of the year and fourth in the last five games.

Louisville was led by Quentin Snider, who finished with 21 points, and Chinanu Onuaku’s 12 points and 14 rebounds.

State now enters desperation mode heading to Wake Forest on Sunday afternoon. Both teams are 0-2 in the conference, although NC State might very well be the more desperate team with their NCAA lives on the line.

Here’s three more takeaways from NC State’s loss:

Pushing in the Paint: Early in the game and throughout much of the night, NC State struggled to get going inside. With Louisville boasting one of the tallest lineups in the ACC, the Pack relied on second-chance opportunities to get going.

In fact, State’s first nine points were all from offensive rebounds — a battle it won 19-12 over Louisville.

Abdul-Malik Abu bullied Louisville around inside with 15points and 12 rebounds. His presence on the scoring sheet was a huge necessity with Maverick Rowan and Caleb Martin, State’s other offensive threats, both scuffling on that end.

The Pack won’t face many lineups like the one Louisville put on the court, but it’s clear Abu has to get more looks inside. With his ferociousness on the boards creating extra possessions, getting Abu going early and often along with Barber might be State’s only chance to compete in the ACC.

Barber Breather: It’s a reasonable question to ask after every single NC State game, win or lose: How long can Cat carry the load? The junior point guard is averaging over 39 minutes per game and is relied upon every single game to do just about everything.

Barber sat out for 1:06 in the first half and social media went bananas.

The difference for the Pack was noticeable, too. State struggled to find an open shot with Louisville running the full-court press. Barber, of course, was immediately inserted back into the lineup.

When Barber struggles, the entire team struggles. He started the game just 2-of-9 (1-of-4 from three-point range) with State down, 31-20, by the 3:34 mark in the first half. He finished with nine points as State fought back to a 34-29 deficit at the half.

It’s a nightmare Catch-22 for Mark Gottfried. He has to rest his best player but when he does it sinks any hope the Wolfpack has of winning.

What’s Next? Still winless in the conference, NC State now travels to Joel Coliseum to face Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are off to a similar start to the Pack after losing their first two conference games against Louisville and Duke.

Wake has shown ability this season with Devin Thomas leading the way at 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Freshman Bryant Crawford has also been dangerous thus far, but is coming off one of his worst performances against the Blue Devils at home.

In order for the Pack to finally get an ACC victory, it will need to force the issue inside against Thomas and freshman John Collins. Working inside-out against a young Wake team could be the key, but getting consistent production outside of Abu will be a struggle.

Image via Twitter

N.C. State hoping to avoid first 0-2 ACC start in Gottfried era

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the year 2010. Nick Saban led Alabama to a national title for the first time. Duke won a national championship, the fourth of Mike Krzyzewski’s titles in Durham.

It was not, however, a great year for N.C. State basketball. The Wolfpack finished 20-16 overall, but 5-11 and 11th in the ACC in Sidney Lowe’s penultimate season. State’s offensive leaders were Tracy Smith, Dennis Horner and Javier Gonzalez.

That was also the last time N.C. State lost its opening two games in conference play.

The Wolfpack has never started 0-2 in conference play under Mark Gottfried. Can he keep that streak alive against Louisville? Image courtesy of @collegeinsider.
The Wolfpack has never started 0-2 in conference play under Mark Gottfried. Can he keep that streak alive against Louisville? Image courtesy of @collegeinsider.

If it seems like a long time ago, it’s because it was. Mark Gottfried was still an ESPN analyst. Lorenzo Brown was still at Hargrave Military Academy. C.J. Leslie was still at Word of God. Ryan Harrow didn’t even have bubbleguts for N.C. State, Kentucky or Georgia State yet.

That’s what the Pack will be playing for on Thursday night against Louisville. Coming off a disappointing overtime loss to Virginia Tech — a game State led by as much as 16 points — the Pack now faces a 12-2 Cardinals team that has lost to only Michigan State and Kentucky this year.

Oh, and those losses were by a combined six points. That’s pretty good.

“You’ve got 18 conference games, 18 opportunities, and we feel like we let one get away (against Virginia Tech),” head coach Mark Gottfried said. “That’s on us. … Every game, every night is a game either team can win. So we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play against a really good Louisville team.”

If State is going to pull off the upset, it will need a complete game from both Maverick Rowan and Caleb Martin. Both players average over 12 points per game, but rarely play well at the same time. In fact, the only time Rowan and Martin scored in the double digits together since Dec. 1 was against Bucknell.

Cat Barber has of course been the Pack’s spark plug on the offensive end, but he’ll need to continue his defensive prowess against Louisville.

The Cards’ strength is the play of its senior guards, Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, who average 31.9 ppg combined. But Barber will likely face Quentin Snider, a do-it-all point guard who is playing 27.7 minutes per game. That’s nothing compared to Barber, whose 38.9 minutes per game rank second in the NCAA.

“I don’t really worry so much about Cat,” Gottfried said of Barber’s minutes. “If you 40 minutes or 37 minutes or 35 minutes, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference. Now if he went from 40 to 26, that’d be big.”

Gottfried smiled and added, “But I’m not planning on playing him 26 minutes. … I’m not worried about him wearing down at all.”

Barber won’t be the only player tasked with a tough opponent on Thursday. The Pack’s frontcourt will have to contain Chinanu Onuaku, who has 9.4 points and 10.4 rebounds over the last five games. Onuaku also has four-plus blocks in three of the last four contests.

Luckily, the Pack has BeeJay Anya — a 2015 ACC all-defensive team selection — in the paint. The ACC leader in blocks per game (3.07) has four-plus blocks in four of his last six contests.

With history on the line for Gottfried and the Pack on Thursday night, it will need an all-around performance to get past the Cards. If it can’t, starting off 0-3 would be the first time since 2006-07. That’s not company this team wants to join — especially with no NCAA tournament berth either season.