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.
Some of you saw Northern Lights this week. I saw Cat Barber sitting on the bench. I win.
— Joe Ovies (@joeovies) January 8, 2016
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.
Cat Barber took more shots than he had points. That’s not a good stat. 20 points on 7 of 22 shooting.
— Howie Lindsey (@howielindsey) January 8, 2016
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.”