BROOKLYN, N.Y. — If there was one silver lining to NC State’s self-inflicted 91-87 loss to Boston College in the second round of the ACC tournament Wednesday, other than the fact that it nearly staged the greatest comeback in the 64-year history of the event, it’s that coach Kevin Keatts’ team still has a chance to hit the reset button and play another game.
And maybe this time, learn the lesson that apparently didn’t sink in after a similar clunker last Thursday at Georgia Tech.
Because from now on, Wolfpack won’t get any more second chances.
“We have to know that we can’t allow this to happen in our next game,” said graduate guard Allerik Freeman, one of the few State players with NCAA tournament experience, “If we do, it will be out last game.”
With a resume that includes 21 victories, a winning ACC record and high-profile triumphs against Arizona, Duke and North Carolina, the Wolfpack should be secure in its NCAA tournament bid come Sunday.
It’s seeding and the distance it’s likely to have to travel have almost certainly suffered as a result of Wednesday’s early ACC ouster.
That gives State a full week to return home to Raleigh and work on cleaning up things like post defense, cutting off dribble penetration and avoiding the slow starts that have plagued it in recent games.
The first half woes that put the fifth-seeded Wolfpack into too deep a hole to recover at Georgia Tech happened again against BC, as the 12th-seeded Eagles rolled out to a double-digit lead after just 5½ minutes and built as much as a 16-point cushion midway through the second half.
“We just came out flat and I don’t know why,” sophomore point guard Markell Johnson said afterward. “That’s something we definitely have to fix.”
What made this latest loss all the more disappointing is that State was done in by two players from North Carolina. Jerome Robinson, a Raleigh native who played on the same Broughton High team as the son of former Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried, and Havelock’s Ky Bowman combined to score 50 of the Eagles’ points in the game.
Although the Wolfpack rallied to tie the game five times in the final four minutes, it was never able to get the stop that allowed it to take the lead.
That allowed Robinson to make what turned out to be the winning basket on a 15-foot jumper with 17.8 seconds left. He then sealed State’s fate by deflecting the ensuing inbounds pass to Bowman for a turnover.
“What we’ll take from this is that when it’s one-and-done, you’ve got to play the entire game,” Keatts said. “You’ve got to finish games and obviously, we didn’t do a great job starting.”
According to sophomore center Omer Yurtseven, who produced most of his 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots during the second half comeback, this loss will stay fresh on his mind until he has the chance to play again and make amends.
“I definitely use it as motivation,” Yurtseven said. “These type of losses hurt and you’ve got to use that pain basically as energy for your next opponent.”
Yurtseven’s teammate Freeman, who led the Wolfpack with 21 points, plans to take the opposite approach.
“We’ve got to forget about this one, forget about the first half, look at what we did in the second half and carry the momentum forward,” he said. “If we would have had a first half like we did the second half, we’d have won by 10.”
The trick now is to remember how to put two strong halves together the way State was doing during its four-game mid-February winning streak.
And do it before it’s too late.
“I’m excited about it,” Keatts said. “I’m excited for these guys (to have) the opportunity.”