NC State crumbles in second half against Illinois in ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Wolfpack commits 19 total turnovers in first true road game in the State Farm Center

Mike Granse—USA Today Sports
Dennis Smith Jr. played one season for NC State before entering the NBA draft and becoming the first round pick of the Dallas Mavericks (Mike Granse/USAToday Sports)

Tuesday night at the State Farm Center was one to forget for the Wolfpack.NC State tallied 19 total turnovers against Illinois with four apiece coming from Dennis Smith Jr. and Abdul-Malik Abu. Its defense allowed the Illini to shoot 67.9 percent in the second half. Illinois topped State in rebounds (30-27), second-chance points (19-8) and bench points (39-22).All of that amounted to an 88-74 loss in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, dropping the Pack (5-2) to 6-11 in the Challenge with three straight losses. Speaking of three straight losses, the win for the Illini snapped a three-game losing streak to move to 5-3 on the season.The lone positive from NC State’s loss at Illinois: It can’t possibly get any worse than that, right?It certainly can’t get any worse for Smith, who finished with 12 points on 11 shots and just three assists to his four turnovers. The freshman looked frazzled at times during his first true road game after three consecutive performances with 20-plus points and at least seven assists.Following a first half where Illinois shot 34.4 percent from the floor, it stopped missing wide-open looks in the second half. Malcolm Hill, who was 0-of-3 in the first half, was left open during several defensive breakdowns to finish with 22 points after going 5-of-9 in the second.One positive coming from the game was Torin Dorn’s continued sharp shooting. Dorn finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, leading the Wolfpack in both categories. It was his sixth straight game with 16 points or more and raised his shooting percentage to 64.1 percent.The loss dropped the ACC to 3-4 in the Challenge, but it was quickly tied back up when Duke knocked off Michigan State in Cameron Indoor Stadium.While NC State drops to 5-2 on the season, December should provide promise. Currently playing with a nine-man rotation that includes sparsely used players like Shaun Kirk and Darius Hicks, Omer Yurtseven will be added on Dec. 15 while Maverick Rowan is inching closer to a return.State likely won’t face another difficult test like the Fighting Illini until its first ACC contest against Miami. That will also be just the second true road game for the Pack after six home games — five in PNC Arena and one in Reynolds Coliseum.With the “rubix cube,” as coach Mark Gottfried called it, still unsolved for the young Wolfpack roster, the next six game should be a chance to mesh. In a talented ACC that currently includes three teams in the top six in the AP Poll, January is quickly approaching for a team struggling to find its identity.