Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mental toughness part of Pack's growth

Three Points from Wednesday's 56-51 win at Boston College:

1) Body language counts

When Richard Howell, Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie slumped their shoulders, dropped their heads and sloughed off to the locker room at halftime, they were greeted with a warning from N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried.

"I told them that is not acceptable and we won't do that — and we have not done that any night this year," Gottfried said. "We were allowing things to bother us. Mentally, we were out of synch."

There have been a lot "that didn't happen last year" moments for the Wolfpack this season, which matched its ACC win total (five) for the past two seasons on Wednesday in only eight games, but that was one of the first "that did happen all the time last year" moments of Gottfried's tenure.

Bad body language was a hallmark of recent N.C. State teams but that was usually during a lopsided loss, not a game it was actually winning at the half, albeit by only two points (25-23).

The players responded the right way to Gottfried's hammer-dropping message, which was a departure from his usual positive-reinforcement methods. BC made State earn the win, and that's what the Pack did with an assortment of key plays from Howell (10 points, eight boards), Brown (seven assists) and Leslie (13 points, six boards).

"Rather than quitting, our guys hung in there and got over it," Gottfried said.

Mental toughness was rarely a hallmark of the previous two State teams, and beating BC doesn't qualify as a breakthrough, but it is progress that the coach can identify a glaring problem — one that everyone in the building or with a TV could see — and correct it before the end of the game.

2) Winning without your fastball

Sometimes you have to win without your fastball and N.C. State needed all of its pitches to labor through Wednesday's win over Boston College.

State played hard in the first half but did not shoot well (9 of 27). The Pack shot well in the second half (10 of 18) but was out-rebounded by the worst rebounding team in the ACC (30 to 28) and went stretches where it couldn't execute an entry pass to the post.

"We didn't play particularly great," Gottfried said. "But what I liked, even on a night when we struggled to score, we still found a way to win."

Points, and possessions, were difficult to come by for the entire game because BC slowed the game down, milked the shot clock and ran its halfcourt sets with Sisyphean, yet admirable, diligence.

The Eagles got some timely scoring from wings Matt Humphrey (15 points) and Lonnie Jackson (10) and eight rebounds each from bigs Dennis Clifford and Ryan Anderson.

Jackson had a four-point play on the first possession of the second half, and followed that up 3 minutes later with three throws, after getting fouled by Scott Wood on a 3-point attempt. Humphrey's 3-pointer from the right corner, after an offensive rebound from Clifford gave him a second chance and gave BC a 40-37 lead with 7:24 left.

The game was tied at 44 at 5:17 before Leslie scored four straight points to give the Pack control of the game. Leslie's play was indicative of the team's. He was 2 of 9 in the first half, but made all three of his second-half shots.

"Even when we were missing layups, we were able to mentally hang there because that could have easily went the other way," Gottfried said.

3) General apathy and major boredom

Boston is a pro sports town, even if the Patriots weren't in the Super Bowl. And even in Boston College's finest hour, it's the fifth fiddle behind the Pats, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics and its own fans prefer watching the hockey team, a national power, to the basketball team.

I get that.

BC is a small private school (undergrad enrollment: 9,200) without the world's largest fan base.

I get that, too.

And this BC team, while extremely well-coached, is nowhere near its salad days of Big East glory under Gary Williams or Jim O'Brien, nor does not qualify as must-see basketball.


Still, Wednesday's turnout was embarrassing for a conference that used to pride itself and be defined by its basketball excellence. The announced crowd was 3,611 but there were probably about 2,000 people in the building.

(The Conte Forum, which looks like a train depot and is perfectly acceptable college facility, has a capacity of 8,606, the second-smallest venue in the ACC. Miami, shocking!, has the smallest, 7,000.)

Maybe, as the Carolina Hurricanes famously told The New York Times during the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs, Wednesday is a "big church night," I don't know but I do know that almost seven years after joining the ACC, clearly, there's minimal fan interest in Boston for the ACC.

There are valid reasons for that, I'm not disputing that, just pointing out the reality. And please don't confuse this for nostalgia for "the good old days" of the ACC (although I do miss the round robin), it's just a fact.

Fan apathy, especially in the newer ACC markets (Miami's gym was again on Wednesday for Maryland's visit) is one of the factors in the league's declining image and product.

(Rhetorical aside: Which two teams would you rather have watched play last night: A) State-BC B) Maryland-Miami or C) State-Maryland?)

Expansion happened, at some point I'll get over that, probably when someone from the ACC admits they killed their basketball brand in the process.
--J.P. Giglio


Anonymous said...

NCSU lacks confidence...which does not surprise me after the BEATDOWN they took in Chapel Hill...then barely losing to Virginia....and then winning by a few points to the worst team in the