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NC State in unfamiliar territory after 85-70 loss to Miami

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time under Mark Gottfried, NC State has no hope.

Sure, there's the ACC tournament where theoretically anything can happen, but the Pack will have to win four games in four days - a feat that hasn't been accomplished in tournament history.

But right now the Pack finds itself in unfamiliar territory -- playing for seeding in the tournament but not chasing a berth in the NCAAs. That died on Saturday afternoon as the Pack played turnstile defense against the 11th best offense in the league (they moved up to 10th after the game, ironically passing the Pack).

"I really don't know - basketball is a game of runs, but I don't know what happened," Dez Lee said.

You and me both, Dez. Miami used ball screens to give its four -- often Erik Swoope -- space to drive on the Pack's big men and get to the basket with little resistance. When it did miss, the Hurricanes managed to grab 48 percent of its own misses and 16 second-chance points. Add it all up and it was the worst defensive effort of the season for the Pack, as a Miami team averaging less than a point per possession had a season-best 139 offensive efficiency rating on the road in Raleigh.

"We were a step slow and couldn't guard them, didn't step over and take the charge when we had some opportunities to," Gottfried said. "That's really a disappointing defensive effort on our part. Frustrating day."

It was an exclamation mark on a season defined by bad defensive performances in crucial moments. The situation was eerily similar to NC State's performance at Clemson, once again coming off an emotional one-point loss only to give up easy basket after easy basket.

"I thought again we were very heavy-legged today," Gottfried said. "That can't happen, that just can't happen."

And yet it happened time and again for the Pack. Miami, Clemson, NC Central -- and now the Pack is far beyond any bubble discussion. The only questions left is where they'll be seeded in the ACC tournament and whether they can somehow finish 2-0 and avoid its first losing ACC season under Gottfried. That Gottfried went his first two years before falling into this situation is a testament to how quickly he turned things around in Raleigh.

Last season, as much as it might have felt like a disappointment, the Pack was never really in any danger of missing the NCAA tournament and won 22 games during the regular season. In his first year the Pack squeaked out a remarkably similar win over a mediocre Miami team at home -- a win that sparked a four-game winning streak that ended with a two-point loss to UNC in the ACC tournament semi-finals. That was enough to get the Pack over the hump.

This year, the opposite happened. Losing at Clemson didn't spark anything.

For their part, the players were remarkably upbeat following the game.

"We have to stay together; we have to make sure we are going for the same goal and that's winning, getting into the NCAA tournament," freshman forward Kyle Washington said. "I know it looks bleak, but we haven't given up."

There's no other stance the players can take, really. They have to spend the next week playing for pride and momentum going into Greensboro. That's all that's left, at least for the next two games.