Watching a struggling team fight its heart out is still way better than watching a team that should be good just go through the motions, but when the results are the same, I’m not sure the difference has any material value. NC State is decidedly the former and it was again on Wednesday night, but a 62-59 loss to Virginia Tech leaves it with the same result.
NC State showed up late to the game, and the Hokies had no qualms about starting without them. Mike Young’s team opened a 15-0 lead before the Pack did anything of consequence. State was better over the back half of the first 20 minutes, mostly because it was outside of the realm of human capacity to be worse. It managed a couple mini-runs and Casey Morsell knocked down two threes to give State a shooter’s chance in the second half. The Pack trailed 35-21 at halftime and felt fortunate to be that close.
The Pack was the better team in the second and erased most of the deficit with surprising efficiency. It could never get over the hump though, succumbing to the Hokies after Terquavion Smith fumbled the ball away and had to chuck up a heave on the final possession. State threw punch after punch in its attempt to pull off a second double-digit comeback this season, but every time it got close, Virginia Tech either responded or State couldn’t make a basket.
This team really does play its heart out and it absolutely does not quit. Being 2-5 in the ACC and starting a game down 19-2 certainly is a spot that would be ripe for a mental exit out the back, but State is not that team. These players really do deserve your respect for that. Effort has never been a problem, but way too many other things are.
Keatts’ team is badly outgunned inside and gave up 100,000 points in the paint once again. It was -11 on the boards. It’s nobody’s fault that Manny Bates, Greg Gantt, and Ernest Ross are not available, but it’s a huge problem. There isn’t a magic wand you can wave to fix that and switching every ball screen so Dowuona is constantly left on the perimeter doesn’t help matters.
Still though, NC State tried to fight through it on Wednesday and nearly did, albeit against a meh team. Virginia Tech almost threw the game away when it went to sleep in the final minutes and started turning the ball over on nearly every possession. State took advantage and cut the deficit all the way to one as its full court press sent the Hokies into a tailspin. But it was too late. You have to play 40 minutes and avoid digging a hole or be perfect to climb out of one. State couldn’t do either of those on Wednesday and the margin of error was just too small after the awful start.
NC State plays Virginia on Saturday.