|Feeding C.J. Leslie and others inside proved futile for N.C. State against the interior defense of Tyler Zeller (left) and John Henson. Ethan Hyman photo|
Three Points from N.C. State's 74-55 road loss to UNC on Thursday:
1) Outside in, not inside out
There's no shame in losing to the best team in the country on their home floor, but there is in the way N.C. State lost to UNC on Thursday.
The Wolfpack (15-6, 4-2 ACC) kept making the same mistakes -- at least while the game was still close in the first half -- over and over and over. And they were the same mistakes they made in last year's losses to the same UNC team.
(<soapbox>And that's why Mark Gottfried should have looked at the film of last year's Carolina games. </soapbox>).
UNC forward John Henson, who's 6-11 and has an 88-inch wingspan, didn't shrink, and his arms didn't get any shorter. And, oddly, none of N.C. State's forwards got any taller. So why go inside?
Almost every set in the first half was designed to go inside to C.J. Leslie, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds but was tormented by Henson (five blocks), or to Richard Howell, who was demoralized by Tyler Zeller (21 points, 17 rebounds).
The only way to beat UNC -- for any team other than Kentucky, which has the NBA talent to go toe-for-toe with the Tar Heels -- is to get hot from the outside and trade 3s for 2s. This a proven formula and one State did not embrace.
Scott Wood, the best 3-point shooter in the ACC, attempted one shot in the first 16 minutes of the game. C.J. Williams, State's second-best 3-point shooter, connected on his only 3-point attempt of the game, but he took only six shots in 30 minutes. Leslie (12 shots) and Howell (nine) combined for 21 shots.
Wood got off nine 3s for the game, making three, but only his first 3 -- on the first possession of the second half -- mattered. That cut UNC's lead to 37-26, and Carolina then quickly went on a 25-5 run.
By the time Kendall Marshall and Stilman White hit consecutive 3s, State could have brought back the entire 1974 lineup (in its prime) and not been able to dig out of the 31-point hole.
State needed to attack Marshall, who for all intents and purposes is Carolina's only point guard, and either A) try to get him in foul trouble or B) force him to play matador defense because he can't afford to get in foul trouble.
State's point guard Lorenzo Brown needed to drive and kick, to either Wood or Williams. Instead, it was dump and chase -- the errant blocked shots.
"We didn't screen very well, we didn't cut very well," Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. "We were not very sharp offensively."
That's an understatement. State finished with a season-low 55 points. Even Ken Pomeroy is trying to figure out how State can score 60 points against Princeton, the slowest of the slow-pace teams, and 55 against the Tar Heels, the fastest of the fast-pace teams.
2) Staying positive
Mark Gottfried has been quick to point out that State has a "long way to go" even after Sunday's win at Miami gave State a 4-1 record in the ACC, and a share of first place.
This is both Gottfried's way of lowering expectations, for a program that has been to the NCAA tournament five times in the past 20 years, but also his understanding of how to build a program.
After five years under Sidney Lowe, State needed a complete overhaul in work ethic, and that includes both on game day and in the preparation for game day, particularly in the weight room and offseason.
The ACC is bad; Gottfried understands that; so beating bad teams to get to 4-1 was never the point (or much of an accomplishment). It's how you prepare and how you play that matters, not what the other team does.
N.C. State got a 3-iron to the ear last night. Instead of reminding his players that they have a "long way to go," Gottfried wisely chose to encourage his team.
(Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a football coach. When ECU hired Ruffin McNeill, he said he was going to "hug 'em up and love 'em up and coach 'em up." This was Gottfried's version of the "hug 'em up.")
"I like my team," Gottfried said. "We have battled from Day One, and I believe we will keep battling. Tonight's disappointing, we all agree, but we're a better basketball team than we were tonight."
No reason dwelling on the loss, as Gottfried pointed out; it was State's worst performance in 21 games (and UNC had a large part in that). With Virginia on deck (Saturday, 8 p.m.), State can't afford to let one loss turn into two.
3) Double Zeller trouble
State's 0-2 against the Zeller brothers, and UNC senior forward Tyler Zeller was the best player on the court last night.
Zeller was dominant last night, with 21 points, 17 rebounds, a block and two steals in 27 minutes. He would have had more rebounds if Roy Williams had not been experimenting with freshman Desmond Hubert, who played 13 minutes. Zeller had as many offensive rebounds (six) as State's entire roster.
Zeller domination was not a new concept to the Wolfpack. Zeller's younger brother, Cody, a freshman at Indiana, had 19 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal in the Hoosiers' 86-75 win in Raleigh on Nov. 30.
The good news for State: There aren't any other Zeller brothers in college basketball. The bad news: They have to face Tyler, and the Heels, again (Feb. 21 in Raleigh).
-- J.P. Gigli