N.C. State played one way to get back in the game against Wake Forest on Tuesday and then another to finish it.
That was a problem for the Wolfpack in its 71-67 road loss to the Demon Deacons.
No. 17 N.C. State erased a 22-point deficit in the second half and tied the game at 58 with 7:45 left. And then ... well, here was coach Kevin Keatts’ take:
“If you look at that 10-minute stretch in the second half when we played extremely well to get back in, we shared the basketball. Everybody got involved. We had some guys drive the ball to the hole, we had some guys that made some shots and we fed off of each other.
“Towards the end, once we tied it up, I thought a couple of guys played ‘hero’ basketball.”
“Hero” ball, if you are unfamiliar with the descriptor, is when one player tries to do too much or tries to be the hero.
The problem with that for N.C. State was two-fold:
1) It got back into the game by sharing the ball, attacking the basket and speeding Wake Forest up on defense not by one person getting hot and hitting a bunch of difficult shots.
2) The one player best suited to play “hero” ball, in a positive context, was back in Raleigh. Junior guard Markell Johnson didn’t make the trip to Winston-Salem. He missed the game with the lingering effects of a hip injury suffered early in Saturday’s home win over Pittsburgh.
So after trailing 51-29 and 56-39, N.C. State tied the game at 58 with 7:45 left.
“We were able to force them into some turnovers and share the ball in the second half,” said senior Torin Dorn, who finished with a game-high 18 points.
Wake Forest had mostly used a zone in the first half, with great success, but had switched to man defense by this point. The Wolfpack then had six possessions and eight shots.
Here’s what happened on each:
▪ With the score tied at 58, guard C.J. Bryce (17 points) drove to the basket -- after one pass on the possession -- and had a running bank shot, contested by 7-footer Olivier Sarr, bounce in and out.
▪ Down 60-58, guard Devon Daniels (seven points) caught a pass (the only pass of the possession) in the corner and waited for the defender to close. Instead of driving to the basket, Daniels took a contested 3-pointer, which he missed.
▪ Still down 60-58, Daniels used a high ball-screen to drive to the basket. He got into the lane and missed a contested shot.
Wyatt Walker got the rebound and was fouled, which set N.C. State up under its own basket. Eric Lockett, who was instrumental in the comeback, got free on the out-of-bounds set but missed a contested shot.
Walker got the rebound again and kicked it out to guard Braxton Beverly for a deep 3 but Beverly missed the open look. Beverly, N.C. State’s best 3-point shooter, finished 3 of 10 from the line and N.C. State was just 6 of 29 as a team.
▪ Down 62-58, Daniels had another contested drive that didn’t go in.
▪ Down 64-58, Bryce used a ball-screen and was able to get to the basket but missed a good look.
▪ Down 64-58, big man D.J. Funderburk popped to the 3-point line after a screen and got a pass from Beverly. Funderburk missed the open shot.
Finally, at 3:51, Dorn was able to get out in transition and break the scoring drought.
Wake Forest led 69-66 with 1:13 left and N.C. State had three chances to tie or cut into the margin but Beverly missed a deep, ill-advised 3 (from just inside the over-sized midcourt logo) and Dorn couldn’t get the putback to go or get a foul call.
Bryce ended up with the ball on the possession, after a Lockett rebound, and was fouled on a drive to the basket with 43 seconds left.
Bryce made only one of his two free throws and then Wake was able to put the game away on the next possession with a pair of free throws by reserve guard Torrey Johnson.