NC State proves its defensive mettle to snap 3-game losing streak against Pitt

Henderson, Yurtseven lead the way for a gritty Wolfpack win following lone home loss of the season

Rob Kinnan—USA Today Sports
NC State Wolfpack guard Terry Henderson (3) reacts after hitting a 3-pointer during the second half against the Pitt Panthers at PNC Arena. The Wolfpack won 79-74.

Terry Henderson was sick of losing. Sick of talking about it. Sick of hearing about it. And, most importantly, sick of living through loss after loss in the ACC.On Tuesday night against Pittsburgh, Henderson did something about it.With 9:13 remaining in the game, Pitt took a 67-60 lead that seemed to ignite Henderson. Following the media timeout at the eight-minute mark, Henderson scored seven of his 21 points and three of his eight rebounds — including the game-clinching free throws to seal the 79-74 win.”I just wanted to win,” Henderson said. “I wasn’t going to be able to deal with myself if we took another loss, especially on our home floor.”Coming off a loss to Georgia Tech on Sunday to cap a three-game losing streak, Henderson said the team had to do some soul searching.”It was bad, man,” Henderson said. “I met with coach, we talked about some things. I also met with the team, we had multiple discussions amongst each other. Just understanding what we need to do to win. We all saw ourselves on film, saw how we were playing and understood we needed to play harder and play smarter.”So what was the secret to the drastic change for the Wolfpack? Focusing solely on improving defensively following the loss Sunday.Instead of scrimmaging against the scout team offensively, Henderson said Gottfried had the team defend the scout team and walk-ons Monday. Improving that defensive energy and toughness was crucial in the final 4:47 on Tuesday, with Pitt missing its final six shots from the field.”We didn’t even touch the ball or go on offense in practice yesterday,” Henderson said. “… We didn’t care about offense at all. We wanted to shut teams out on defense, so we spent a lot of time yesterday during practice on defense.”The offense was still there for NC State, with Maverick Rowan matching Henderson’s 21 points on a 6-of-9 effort from three-point range. Dennis Smith Jr. and Markell Johnson — who got a career-high 33 minutes against Pitt — combined for 19 points, 13 assists and three steals.Another obvious advantage for the Pack was outrebounding a small Panthers lineup by a final of 44-30. Yurtseven’s 16 total rebounds were a career high, but the nine he hauled in during the first six minutes — he had nine of the first 11 for State — proved exactly what Yurt offers when he’s not hampered by fouls.The second-chance opportunities helped, but the Pack only turned those into nine points despite 18 offensive rebounds. Some of that fell on Yurtseven’s shoulders, something he focused on after his first career double-double at the college level with 12 points.”I missed a lot,” Yurtseven said. “I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got to get it, finish it.’ So I just kept on going. But I missed a lot, though, I’ve got to work on that.”After missing the first nine games of the season, the transition has been slow at times for Yurtseven. While he’s tallied 12 or more points in four of his outings thus far, the Turkish big man scored five or less points in six previous seven games due to foul trouble.Coming into a new country with meteoric expectations is difficult for any athlete, much less a teenager.”Omer is 18 years old, and we look out there and see this big seven-foot guy, and we forget that,” Gottfried said. “Omer has been down on himself, because he doesn’t think he is playing well, but he’s a young guy and he’s learning. … I think tonight is really important for him, important for his confidence, and for the other players I think they will get more confidence in him.”Youth has been the theme of Gottfried’s patience over the last several months despite a 51-point loss to UNC and another at lowly Boston College. That all came to a head after Georgia Tech, where Gottfried laid into his players about defense and toughness.The team clearly responded against Pitt, despite allowing more wide-open looks on the perimeter — the Panthers finished 12 of 28 from behind the arc. Though the team, much like Yurtseven and defense, is still a work in progress, Henderson hasn’t given up faith in a turnaround.”We’re a young, hungry team and we want to be great,” Henderson said. “But we understand that comes with time and a lot of focus.”