RALEIGH — Second verse, same as the first.
Just as it did 10 days earlier in Syracuse, the NC State basketball team failed to capitalize on a strong start Tuesday and faded in the second half on the way to a loss to the Orange.
The final count was 76-73 at Carrier Dome on Jan. 31. This time, it was 77-68 at PNC Arena on a night in which the wilting Wolfpack turned the ball over 20 times and was punished on the offensive glass by its taller rival.
The loss was the seventh in nine games since the turn of the calendar year, dropping coach Kevin Keatts’ team back to .500 overall at 8-8 and 4-7 in the ACC as its NCAA Tournament hopes are quickly fading away.
“We just shoot ourselves in the foot every time we come out in a loss,” said D.J. Funderburk, who had 14 points and six rebounds in the rematch after missing the game at Syracuse for what was termed “university policy.”
“We’ve just got to play tougher. We’ve just got to be more mentally locked in. It has nothing to do with our skill. We can guard, we can score. We just have too many mental breakdowns, and it hurts us every time.”
A majority of those breakdowns usually happen after halftime. That was the case again Tuesday, as the Orange (11-6, 5-5) outscored the Wolfpack 43-35 during the final 20 minutes.
For the season, State is plus-83 in the first half of its games. By contrast, it has given up 15 more points than it has scored in its second halves.
It’s a recurring theme whose cause Keatts has yet to pinpoint.
“I don’t have one particular thing that is the issue in that part of it,” the Wolfpack coach said. “What I will say is that I’m glad we are coming out and playing well in the first half. What we are having to do, what this team is having to figure out is how do we get consistent for 30 to 35 to 36 and then add a minute or two every game to where we’re playing the entire game.”
For the second time in as many games against the Orange, State came out with a hot shooting hand. It made 52.4% of its field goal attempts and went 4 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half. But instead of building an early lead as it did in Syracuse, it trailed by one at the intermission thanks to 13 turnovers.
The Wolfpack added seven more miscues in the second half, a problem that was compounded by its inability to keep the Orange off the offensive glass.
Syracuse outrebounded State 22-12 after halftime while recording eight of its 11 offensive rebounds. It’s a disparity that helped the Orange attempt 15 more shots than State. With junior guard Alan Griffin hitting four 3-pointers on the way to a game-high 22 points, Syracuse made the most of all its extra opportunities.
“When you pick up a stat sheet, we typically have more shot attempts than the other team because we force guys into turnovers and because of our ability to get offensive rebounds,” Keatts said. “They got 60 and we got 45 because of the turnovers and also because of the offensive rebounds.
“Turnovers are bad by themselves, but the issue is we turned them over for touchdowns and they were able to score and not have to play against a set defense. I thought our effort was there. Our guys were playing hard. It was one of those games where it’s going to be hard to beat a good team, I don’t care where you play them at, with that many turnovers and offensive rebounds.”
State didn’t do itself any favors with its second half shooting, either.
It cooled off considerably by making only nine of its final 24 attempts (37.5%) and going scoreless for the final 4:46.
Thomas Allen was one of the few offensive bright spots for the Wolfpack, breaking out of a recent shooting slump to make four 3-pointers and score 17 points. But with Syracuse adjusting its trademark zone defense to limit the effectiveness of Jericole Hellems and Manny Bates, State went several long stretches without putting the ball in the basket.
Hellems and Bates combined for 41 points in the first meeting. This time they accounted for only 19 while committing four turnovers apiece.
“To be honest, I think we just second guessed every decision we made,” Funderburk said. “Those second guesses left extra opportunities for them to get steals. It just gave us real fits with their zone.”