BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Trailing Boston College by two points, NC State made two crushing mistakes in the final 12 seconds of its opening game in the ACC Tournament. That wasn’t the problem in Wednesday’s 91-87 loss to the Eagles, however.
“We lost that game in the first half,” said Markell Johnson.
The Wolfpack fell behind 17-7 and trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half.
“The hardest game in any tournament is your first one,” said Allerik Freeman. “We just weren’t ourselves in the first half.”
The Pack appeared to lack energy, getting outrebounded by nine in the first half and trailing 45-31 at the break.
“We got in a big deficit early,” said coach Kevin Keatts, “and we had to battle back at halftime.”
Boston College’s lead by as much as 17 early in the second half, and with 9:29 to go in the game, the Eagles led by 16.
Still, Boston College knew the Pack weren’t finished.
“I mean, it’s ridiculous,” said BC coach Jim Christian. “I knew they would come back.”
Led by Omer Yurtseven, who scored eight of his 20 points in the final nine and a half minutes, as well as pulling down five of his nine rebounds, the Wolfpack made a 22-6 run to tie the game at the 4:17 mark. The teams would trade baskets much of the rest of the way.
Raleigh native Jerome Robinson hit a short jumper with 17 seconds left to give Boston College the lead. Robinson’s 26 points were a game high, just ahead of teammate and fellow North Carolina native Ky Bowman’s 24.
That set the stage for State’s two fatal plays.
With the shot clock off and 13 seconds to play, the Wolfpack called their final time out in front of their bench. Coming out of the huddle, Sam Hunt set up in the corner, the same spot where he’d torched the Eagles all day, hitting four of six from long range.
The ball never worked its way to him, however. Freeman’s inbound pass was tipped and landed in the hands of Robinson, who was immediately fouled and hit a pair of free throws to give the Eagles a four-point lead.
“I just made a mistake and just threw a bad pass,” Freeman said, while battling tears. “I cost my team on that last possession.”
With seven seconds left, Markell Johnson drove the lane and hit a layup to cut the lead in half, at 89-87. He then signaled for a time out that his team didn’t have.
“I just got caught up in the moment, trying to win,” Johnson said. “I was trying to get a quick time out and stop the game. That was it. Mistake.”
Keatts defended his player, however.
“He’s not to blame on it,” Keatts said. “He made a play. I wanted him to get to the hole. He just got caught up in emotion.”
“I knew in my head we didn’t have any,” Johnson said. “I was just so caught up in the game.”
Now the Pack must play the waiting game until Sunday, when the Selection committee will unveil the at large teams for the NCAA Tournament. The consensus is that State is in solid shape, although a win would have likely clinched things.
“I’m excited about our team,” Keatts said. “Our body of work is pretty good … beating five top-25 teams and winning on the road and a couple wins against the No. 2 team in the country.”
At the moment, however, the Wolfpack will be heading home from Brooklyn.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” Johnson said.
“We’re sitting in the locker room, about to go home,” Freeman said. “So you answer that.”