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.