NC State loses seventh straight to Notre Dame to begin Gottfrieds swan song

Wolfpack finished the game with heart, but eventually fades in 81-72 loss to Fighting Irish

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried reacts in the second half of the college basketball game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at PNC Arena in Raleigh

RALEIGH — In the first of Mark Gottfried’s final four regular season games as NC State’s head coach, the Wolfpack fought valiantly down the stretch against Notre Dame. Eventually, however, the Fighting Irish’s talent prevailed in an 81-72 loss for the Pack on Saturday at PNC Arena.The loss gives NC State its seventh straight and fifth consecutive defeat at home to drop the Wolfpack to 3-12 in ACC play and 14-14 — its first time at or below .500 since the end of last season. It was a gritty effort for the Pack late in the second half, but one that capped off three weeks of utter disappointment.Despite the loss, Gottfried showed he doesn’t lack any enthusiasm himself with a motivated pregame speech, telling his team to “Bite the damn tire!” Following the game, Gottfried explained his newest phrase for his team.”It’s just something I came across that I believe in,” Gottfried said with a smile. “You can just lay underneath that thing and accept your fate. I just told them, ‘Me personally, I’m gonna bite that damn tire myself and I’m gonna find a way to get out from underneath that thing.’ And they did too today. There was no doubt about it — they responded.”V.J. Beachem scored 17 of his 27 points in the second half to create distance after a 41-28 first half lead for the Irish. Notre Dame’s leading scorer Bonzie Colson also contributed 13 points to put NC State away after a ferocious comeback that included NC State hitting 10 straight shots to get within seven points, 75-68, at the 1:23 mark.Markell Johnson wasn’t the leading scorer for the Pack — that belonged to Dennis Smith Jr. with 16 points — but he was the catalyst for the comeback. The backup point guard went 5 of 7 in the second half to score 10 of his 12 points in 35 minutes played.After a difficult week for the team, Johnson tried to live up to the mantra from his current head coach.”Just continue out the season and play hard,” Johnson said. “That’s what he told us. … This whole season my team believed in me. They told me to out there and play my game the way I know how to play. Today they just motivated me a lot.”NC State now heads to Georgia Tech in the penultimate road game of Gottfried’s tenure. The Yellow Jackets may be 10th in the ACC, but have a win over the Pack at PNC this season and have won five straight games at home, including triumphs over Florida State and Notre Dame.Gottfried’s final home game comes in exactly one week against Virginia. With five straight home losses, it will be interesting to see how the Wolfpack responds with its outgoing coach having one last chance to end on a high note at PNC Arena.Maverick Rowan — who finished with 15 points and four rebounds Saturday — spoke about the fight the team expects to show in the remaining games of Gottfried’s tenure.”It’s been difficult,” Rowan said of the last week. “We’re a little disappointed in the decision, but we’re trying to send him out on a high note. Forget the circumstances. Right now he’s our coach and we’re going to keep playing as if he’s our coach and keep playing hard for him.”As for Gottfried, his decision to stick around was about more than just finishing his tenure — he still believes his team is capable of great things if it continues to show the fight it did on Saturday.”I told them in the locker room that I saw a team that can do some damage in Brooklyn in the [ACC] Tournament,” Gottfried explained, “if we just keep our spirit alive. … My whole focus that day and today is [those] guys. That’s all this is about. I want [those] guys to have success. That’s all I want for them.”