Wolfpack in total tailspain ahead of UNC home game

Wolfpack hoping to snap one of the worst stretches in Mark Gottfried era in rematch against Tar Heels

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
NC State forward Abdul-Malik Abu (0) is fouled during a game against Wake Forest last season

Raleigh — In the five weeks since NC State was blasted out of Kenan in a 51-point drubbing at the hands of North Carolina, the Wolfpack managed to do the rarest of things, beating Duke inside Cameron Indoor. Unfortunately, it was the lone bright spot for Mark Gottfried’s team in that span.NC State went 2-8, losing games to Boston College, Georgia Tech and twice to Wake Forest. Tack on a report from Mark Armstrong of ABC 11 in Raleigh that Gottfried would be fired at the end of the season and the Wolfpack was in the middle of a full-blown meltdown. The report also claimed NC State put out “feelers” for Dayton coach/alum Archie Miller; NC State denied both claims.”Mark Gottfried remains our head coach and we are all focused on our next opponent,” the school said in a statement. “To suggest we have reached out to any other coach is incorrect and blatantly irresponsible.”The negative energy could all culminate Wednesday when NC State hosts a well-rested and riled-up North Carolina Tar Heels team coming off a road loss to Duke last Thursday. The Tar Heels are a terrifying matchup for the Wolfpack, scoring the most points of any ACC team per game in conference play; NC State allows the most. The Tar Heels are the top-rebounding team in the country; NC State allows the 13th most rebounds in the conference. Gottfried refused to discuss his job status during a Tuesday media availability, nor would he comment on claims by Wake and Carolina players about the Wolfpack rolling over once they got down in games. “We knew if we got up early on them, they was going to quit,” Wake guard Keyshawn Woods said. “If we kept the pressure on them, it wasn’t going to be the same.”Public comments from multiple Pack players reflect the concern. “I mean, it’s effort,” freshman point guard Dennis Smith said. “We’ve got to have some heart. That’s the main thing.””Who are we?” senior guard Terry Henderson asked after the home loss to Miami. “It’s either now or never. If you ask me, I’m tired of losing. Nobody on our team wants to lose. You just have to take it in account that you have to come back even stronger and ready to play even more. It’s not going to get easier.”NC State hasn’t answered the call. The most recent loss, a 30-point blowout at the hands of to Wake in Winston Salem, was the most embarrassing. It was the first time since the 1993-94 season that NC State lost three consecutive ACC road games by 25 points or more.A winless February looms, with just four games on the docket. The first chance to win will be the most difficult. Roy Williams’ squad is sixth in points per game (87.4), third in assists per game (18.3) and first in rebounds (44.2) coming into Wednesday night.Those strengths play almost directly into NC State’s weaknesses and it showed the last time the two teams met. “Obviously, the game we played in Chapel Hill we were a disaster,” Gottfried said. “We know it and we’ve got to turn that around. We’ve got to play a lot better and execute our offense. We turned the ball over, I mean, it was just a myriad of things that we obviously did wrong.”There only sliver of hope is betting on the improbable, and it requires a flashback to the Wolfpack’s last win. State wasn’t supposed to have a chance in Cameron, coming in having lost three of four on the year and having not won at Cameron since 1995.Smith took over that game late, scoring 32 points with six assists, four rebounds and two steals in the stunning late comeback. The Wolfpack also needed a Ted Kapita double-double, a huge effort from Abdul-Malik Abu’s (19 points, nine rebounds) and clutch three-point shooting from Maverick Rowan during a second half 20-5 run to storm from behind.It’s hard to imagine Gottfried’s back being pressed any further against the wall at this point. But he is still quick to point out how his team played when people least expected it.”There’s a lot of basketball left. Regardless of what everybody might think,” Gottfried said on Tuesday. “You guys can look right back at that banner right there in 1983, that team wasn’t going anywhere. I remember UConn having to win five games in the Big East Tournament, just to go to the Tournament. They weren’t going anywhere. “So anything’s possible.”The optimism is admirable, but a win Wednesday would be a massive upset, and might barely beat back the tide of negativity.