Updated, 12:30 a.m. RALEIGH, N.C. – To have a chance against N.C. State, Georgia Tech needed 40 excellent minutes.
The Yellow Jackets were capable of about 33. Against a superior opponent on its home floor, Tech gave a credible effort before falling 83-70 at PNC Arena Wednesday night.
The Jackets continued to withstand the Wolfpack’s attempts at knockout punches before a 14-4 run put them on the mat. Turnovers and misses gave N.C. State the opening to score in transition and put the game away.
“We played a tough, hard-fought game,” guard Mfon Udofia said. “Sometimes you don’t end up on top.”
In the game, Tech led for nearly the entire first 10 minutes of the game and, until the final six minutes, never let the Wolfpack get ahead by more than four points. The final result was Tech’s second consecutive loss, which dropped the Jackets to 10-4 overall and 0-2 in the ACC. However, the game’s course in reaching the result reflected far better upon Tech than its defeat in the ACC opener to Miami.
“This is the hard part, because you’re close and you still don’t get it done,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Now you need to dig down a little deeper, and this’ll be a test of our character, as well.”
N.C. State, ranked 20th in the country and the preseason favorite to win the ACC, won its eighth game in a row to improve to 13-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference.
Against a formidable front line, Tech’s big men, center Daniel Miller and forwards Robert Carter and Kammeon Holsey, were aggressive, scoring a combined 34 points. Against Miami, the trio scored 23 points. Miller in particular stood his ground, leading Tech with a season-high 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting with 10 rebounds for his first double-double since the season opener against Tulane. He also tacked on three assists and two blocks, both team highs, with no turnovers.
“He was aggressive,” Gregory said. “I still always want him to be more aggressive, but he did a good job on the glass.”
Overall, Tech showed more determination to stay in the game than it had against Miami. It showed in particular in its rebounding and its willingness to attack the basket. Tech was outrebounded 43-37, but had 14 offensive rebounds to N.C. State’s nine.
“That’s a good ballclub and we came out and we were just as good as them, if not better, up until the end,” Miller said.
Tech took a staggering 18 more shots from the floor than N.C. State, 73 to 55, in part because it protected the ball better (seven turnovers to the Wolfpack’s 13) and didn’t go to the line as much (Tech shot 16 free throws to N.C. State’s 29). However, N.C. State made 28 baskets and Tech only had 27.
The Jackets had difficulty producing clear shots at the basket, which often turned into missed shots that jump-started N.C. State’s lethal transition game. Tech only had eight assists on its 27 baskets, its poorest ratio of the season.
“They’re long, they’re athletic, they’ve got good size and they’ve got veteran players and so they’re able to defend,” Gregory said.
Tech managed for much of the game to retreat quickly enough to slow the Wolfpack down, but wore down at the game’s conclusion.
In the 14-4 run that secured the game for N.C. State, guard Rodney Purvis hit a 3-pointer in the open court on a possession created from a steal and C.J. Leslie scored on a layup after a missed 3-point shot by Carter.
“That’s probably what it was, just us getting tired at the end,” said Miller of N.C. State’s closing push.
Gregory gave guard Solomon Poole, the freshman who joined the team in December as a mid-year enrollee, six minutes of playing time in his most meaningful action. Poole flashed his offensive game, creating a basket for Miller on the break and scoring on a teardrop shot, but also was taken advantage of on the defensive end.
“I thought the six minutes were productive,” Gregory said. “At the same time, he’s going to learn, because (when) you make mistakes here or there and you give up a basket, those are big plays.”
N.C. State was led by point guard Lorenzo Brown, a Centennial High grad, who had 21 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.
Through the first half, Tech played the Wolfpack possession for possession, not letting the N.C. State crowd and the Wolfpack transition game create a getaway. In that, it was an improvement for the Jackets, who lost to Miami in their ACC opener Saturday at McCamish Pavilion when foul trouble and an inability to sustain focus allowed the Hurricanes to take a 10-point halftime lead that was never challenged afterwards.
With 3:38 to go in the half, N.C. State guard Tyler Lewis drew a foul on Poole, in briefly to give Udofia a rest. He made both shots to put the Wolfpack ahead 30-26. However, Miller answered with a basket in the post and Tech tied it up on its next possession with a transition basket from Marcus Georges-Hunt.
The Wolfpack again pushed ahead by four, gaining a 34-30 edge on a layup that enveloped the court in thunderous applause. Udofia stuck a 3-pointer to quiet the crowd.
On Tech’s final possession of the half, Chris Bolden dropped a 3-pointer over Scott Wood to give the Jackets a 38-37 halftime lead.
Tech assistant coach Josh Postorino returned to the bench for the first time since his DUI arrest in early December. A statement from the team at the time said he would not be on the bench “for an indefinite period of time in order to deal with personal issues.”
Tech will receive a relative respite Saturday when it will be at home against Virginia Tech, which is 9-6 and has lost four in a row. After that, the challenges continue with road games next week at Duke and North Carolina.
“Not good enough, but another opportunity on Saturday to move forward,” Gregory said.