Mark Gottfried challenges team after loss to Georgia Tech: Ive done a bad job

Following third straight loss and dropping to 1-4 in ACC, irritated Gottfried questions NC States toughness and defense

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
North Carolina State Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried reacts after technical fouls in the first half of the college basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh

RALEIGH — Mark Gottfried is tired of excuses. Following a baffling 86-76 loss to Georgia Tech, a team picked to finish next to last in the ACC in preseason, the sixth-year NC State coach didn’t offer any excuses.There were plenty of flaws Gottfried could have focused on. Georgia Tech, the worst three-point shooting team in the ACC, finished with a season-high 10 3-pointers on 16 attempts. The Wolfpack was also outrebounded, 42-35, and was blocked 10 times.The reason? Simply a lack of defense and toughness for NC State. Allowing 86 points to the 246th-ranked offense in the country will do that to a coach.”Our team better learn how to get a little bit tougher, bottom line,” he said. “We better make a decision at some point whether we’re going to guard anybody. Real simple. We scored enough points to win the game tonight.”Throughout the season, Gottfried has constantly pointed to two reasons why his team hasn’t quite meshed. One has been the youth with Dennis Smith Jr., Omer Yurtseven, Ted Kapita and Markell Johnson all playing critical roles. Another has been injuries and suspensions causing Yurtseven, Kapita, and Maverick Rowan missing time.None of that was the focal point for Sunday night’s tirade. After preaching to his team through the post-game presser, Gottfried also offered some advice on improving his team’s toughness.”I watched baskets go one after another, after another, after another right at the rim,” Gottfried said. “Now, I don’t want my team to play dirty — I’m not into that at all — but at some point, I might have to put you on your back. … I’m talking about being aggressive instead of watching guys get layup after layup after layup, wide-open three after wide-open three after wide-open three. It’s on me. I’ve done a bad job.”Lost in the negativity of the 10-point loss to Georgia Tech was another brilliant game from Dennis Smith Jr. The freshman set a career-high with 31 points on 4 of 8 from behind the arc, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.Smith led the Wolfpack in every one of those categories. He did so despite leaving the game briefly due to an apparent injury. While the rest of the team finished with a combined 45 points and just one other double-digit scorer — Maverick Rowan, 17 points — Terry Henderson isn’t ready to quit on the season after five ACC games.”It’s frustrating, you know? But we’ve got to keep our heads up and stay positive,” Henderson said. “If everybody puts their head in the tank and just gives in, that’s not gonna help nobody and it’s gonna be a long rest of the season. But if we stay positive and want to get better as a team, we can definitely turn this thing around.”It’s never too late, but we’ve got to do it as a team.”The truth of the matter is NC State is now tied at the bottom of the ACC at 1-4 in conference play with Clemson, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. The positive from that note is that the Wolfpack will play two of those teams — Pitt and Wake — at home in the next two games.Can Gottfried get immediate results on Tuesday night when the Panthers come to Raleigh? Limiting Jamel Artis (22.4 ppg) and Michael Young (20.9 ppg) will play a crucial role in that equation. With little time to turn things around, Gottfried made it clear he expects immediate results.”I don’t care if we play tomorrow,” Gottfried explained, “Better get your a** ready to play some defense. We could play again tonight. We could play at midnight tonight, we better make a decision we want to guard somebody.”We could be a good team still. Everything is still attainable for our group. I don’t care if we play at home or on the road … that ain’t how it works in this league. We’ve got 13 games left. That’s a lot of basketball.”