Monday, March 2, 2009

Latest loss frustrates Lowe

N.C. State's Courtney Fells had six turnovers in Sunday's 71-60 loss to Maryland. Poor play left Fells, coach Sidney Lowe and the rest of the Wolfpack searching for answers.

RALEIGH — Sidney Lowe has lost 32 ACC games as N.C. State's coach but Sunday's 71-60 defeat to Maryland left the third-year Wolfpack coach visibly disappointed and admittedly frustrated.

He told his team as much in the locker room after the game, a game N.C. State had every angle to win. To wit:

  • N.C. State had a significant size advantage over Maryland.
  • Maryland was coming off emotional games against UNC and Duke and due for a letdown.
  • Maryland had won just one road game before Sunday.

"It's been awhile since we just didn't play as well as thought we could have," a dejected Lowe said after the game. "I've been disappointed in games or upset that we lost game but not upset at our players for the way they've played. Today I'm just frustrated because I don't know where this came from."

The Wolfpack had shown improvement in the past month, splitting the past eight conference games. The biggest deficiency, point-guard play, had turned a corner and sophomore forward Tracy Smith had emerged as consistent post threat.

"That's why I'm frustrated because I haven't seen it," Lowe said.

Smith upheld his end of the bargain, scoring 19 points, but the decision-making in general, not just point guards Javi Gonzalez and Farnold Degand, was atrocious. And they were both outdone in the turnover category by Courtney Fells, who led the team with six.

You know that's what has eat up Lowe, a former point guard, more than the won-loss record since his return to N.C. State. Here's a guy who was smart and tough and rarely made mistakes — he still the ACC's career-leader in assist-to-turnover ratio — and he's coaching a group of players with a basement-level basketball IQ.

"We had some really bad turnovers that I can't even explain," Lowe said. "It was bad."

N.C. State turned the ball over 16 times, which is relatively low in comparison to some of their earlier ACC games, but the problem with so many mistakes on offense is they don't force any on defense.

In the first 20 minutes, N.C. State registered zero steals, zero blocks and was called for two fouls. That's not bad defense, that's indifference.

And, amazingly, Maryland led only by a point at the half.

The second half saw N.C. State get back into the game, even taking the lead at 9:15. But after the score was tied at 52 with 7:58 left, Maryland scored 19 more points, N.C. State just eight.

It was a repeat of second-half fades against Florida State, Miami and Duke earlier in the ACC season.

Ultimately, N.C. State had no answer for Greivis Vasquez, which is puzzling because Fells is one of the few perimeter players in the ACC equipped with the size and athletic ability to defend him. Fells couldn't, making the weakest of efforts to fight through a first-half screen at the top of the key that Vasquez seemed to stop and wait for him. When Fells never fought through, Vasquez swished the open 3-pointer.

That wasn't the 3, one of four for Vasquez, that irked Lowe. Vasquez drained an uncontested 3 as the clock wound down. State's players began to head for the handshake line, but Vasquez was still playing.

Lowe wasn't so much concerned about Vasquez's questionable sportsmanship but his own team's effort.

"You play to the buzzer rings," Lowe said. "What bothers me more is that we weren't with him."

N.C. State is guaranteed three more games. We'll see if his players are still with him or if more disappointment awaits.

-- J.P. Giglio