Saturday at PNC Arena was a battle of attrition between two North Carolina teams, but one team had to win. That team was N.C. State, who came away with a nail-biting 99-88 victory, moving to 13-12 and dropping Wake Forest to 10-15.
Two weeks after its last home game against Miami, the Wolfpack now has two straight wins at PNC Arena after starting 0-4. Cat Barber led all players with a career-high 38 points – his seventh 30-point performance of the season.
Devin Thomas led Wake Forest with 15 points and 21 rebounds. The last player with 20-plus rebounds against the Pack was Tim Duncan in 1996. Codi Miller-McIntyre tallied 24 points, but it wasn’t enough in the 12th conference loss of the season for Wake.
Balance on the Boards
Devin Thomas did everything possible for Wake Forest in the paint, coming away with 21 rebounds throughout the game. The help, however, wasn’t there. In fact, his 10 boards in the first half were twice as many as the rest of the team – which finished with 15 through the first 20 minutes.
Even with Thomas’ 21 rebounds, Wake still finished tied with State on the boards at 38. The Deacs also came up short in second-chance points (16-15) with a 13-11 offensive rebound deficit. The deficit was even worse off turnovers, with State converting 17 points compared to six for Wake.
It was a valiant effort throughout the game for Thomas, but his help was limited. Similar to Barber’s effort offensively for N.C. State, Wake couldn’t seem to find any answers otherwise.
State’s Slow Starts
N.C. State has been notorious for slow starts this season offensively, but it was never more apparent than Saturday’s game. Wake Forest got out to an 18-8 lead at the 14:28 mark before Mark Gottfried called a timeout to calm down his team. State responded with a 9-2 run and headed into the half at 44-42.
The second half started in similar fashion, with Wake storming back to take an early lead. The Wolfpack started stagnant offensively. Luckily for State, Barber was there to save the day again, scoring 15 of the team’s first 17 points through the first six minutes of the second half.
Wake was unable to take full advantage, but other ACC teams will down the stretch. Suffice to say, this State team is still a work in progress. That’s not where any team wants to be with March rapidly approaching.
Ultimately, the Pack got going in each half to nearly pass the 100-point threshold. Barber’s nearly 40-point night was a huge reason for that total. Had State started hot in either half, who knows what might have happened?
Turning a Corner
Despite those slow starts, N.C. State’s offense looked much improved in other departments. Much of that is thanks to Caleb Martin, who came off the bench for 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 35 minutes.
Mark Gottfried clearly showed he has more confidence in Martin, who was removed from the starting lineup earlier this season. Maverick Rowan also chipped in with 20 points of his own. Rowan and Martin combined for 7-of-16 from three-point range to match Barber’s scoring total.
Having both on their game is something rarely seen for State this year in conference play. With Abdul-Malik Abu also tallying 11 points, the Pack might finally have all the offensive pieces it needs to compete during tournament time.
For the Wolfpack, a road contest against Virginia lies ahead. The Cavaliers are looking to secure the top seed in the ACC down the stretch, looking up only at North Carolina. State has pulled off some shocking wins this season over Pittsburgh and Miami, but Virginia’s defense is a completely different animal.
Wake Forest travels to Pittsburgh before a winnable home game against Boston College. In desperate need of a win, this Wake team just might find it against the Eagles. With Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Duke to close out the season, the loss in Raleigh is as deflating as any for Wake.