First of all, if I have to answer one more phone call or email complaining about the Wolfpack’s performance last night I’m going to go nuts. We need more big picture thinkers in Raleigh, more big thinking fans because sure this was a disappointing loss and was a game State should have won, but NC State isn’t there yet. They’re not a top 5 team in the nation no matter how you cut it but that’s where they want to be. They still have lessons to learn, lumps to take and last night they took a lump and learned a lesson. This game against Duke was a giant step in the right direction. A loss is a loss, but you build a building brick by brick and this building is on it’s way up no matter how you spin it. Here’s what we think…
Before we get into this thing, let’s just start out by saying ‘I loved these things.’ It gave the team a mean feel about them that the red just can’t do. That being said, I’m not going to say to just throw out our school’s main color. I’d just like to see these at alternates that we wear every now and again. They’re not cursed so stop saying that. They’re cool looking uniforms and it was about time we had an alternate jersey like every other team in America. It’s good for marketing and good for the schools wallet.
Learning to Win:
Before this season if you told me that State would be in the running for the NCAA tournament in late February and would have Duke on the ropes in Cameron by 20 with 11 minutes to go, I would have found it hard to believe you…and I’m a real optimistic guy. This is a good team, but the coaching job being done by Mark Gottfried has been remarkable. There’s no coincidence that this guy had a football school (Alabama) ranked #1 in the nation not all that long ago. He knows what he’s doing. This is a step by step process pretty close to what every addict goes through when he’s trying to get clean and change. State is trying to break their addiction from a losing mentality and learn how to win basketball games. They’re getting closer but they’re not there just yet. They’re young and this is Mark Gottfried’s first year with them so it’s certainly understandable.
This team has learned step one and step two. Play hard and play together. It’s that third and final step that needs to click with the Wolfpack. Win. You can watch it happen with Duke. They tap into reserves that most players don’t even know they have to make runs to win basketball games. It’s not if they’re going to win, but how they’re going to win. This is psychology job that Coach K has been doing for years and no matter who is on that Duke bench, they all play the same way, they all understand and lust for only the victory. State is getting close, but you could see they did step one and step two and then got lost. They played hard and played together, but then found themselves up 20 in Cameron and looked around thinking ‘are we supposed to be here?…What now?’ This will change, they will learn how to win, they will learn that killer instinct, but it will take more time. It will take losses like this to teach them. Be patient, it’s coming.
Brown in Control:
Brown is only a sophomore. Say it again. Brown is only a sophomore. You might get confused when watching him. You might confuse him for a senior leader. He’s not. He’s in his 2nd season, the first of which is being played at point guard. He’s embraced his role and is learning how to lead this team. Brown is already in my opinion, the ACC’s best all-around point guard. He can do it all and then some. Lorenzo Brown is making strides every day and it’s really fun to watch.
He played great against Duke, filling the state sheet with 19 points, 6 boards and 5 assists. In Cameron. That is impressive for a sophomore.
Leslie is a Game Changer
Leslie needs to find a way to stay in every game because State needs him oh so bad. Not only is he their most dangerous front court player on offense he also completely changes the game on defense. When he is in the game teams rarely get an easy layup. He’s becoming a great shot blocker. Against Duke he threw 6 shots, some of which ended up in the crowd. Leslie is heading to the NBA at some point, but hopefully he gives it another year to hone that jumper, because if he gets that down I’m not sure if he’d be able to be stopped. His fourth foul (sending him to the bench) was the moment that NC State started to fall apart against Duke.
What Happened in the 2nd Half
NC State allowed Duke to erase a 20 point lead in less than 12 minutes. How? Well, first off you can look at foul trouble. 3 of State starting 5 were on the bench and when you only go 7 deep, that means trouble. Duke also started to press and it really gave the tempo advantage to Duke. The Wolfpack started rushing, taking quick, poor shots just because Duke kept applying pressure.
Sitting courtside it was amazing to watch how hard this Duke team played during that time. They turned it up to a level I haven’t seen before. Sure they were getting away with some handchecks but this game can’t be completely put on the refs. Duke made some pretty unbelievable shots and didn’t seem to miss down the stretch. They also for the first time started to get thing going to the bucket and that was because Calvin Leslie, the shot blocking machine, was sitting on the bench with 4 fouls. That right there was the ball game.
So what does State need to take away from this game. 1) A killer instinct. When you have a team down, you step on their throat. You never let up. You can’t let your intensity level fall…ever. 2) Knowing that they belong near the top of the ACC. They had #4 Duke down 20 in Cameron, putting them in a place that they haven’t been in too often 3) Calvin Leslie HAS to be in the basketball game. He can’t cramp up, he can’t get into foul trouble, he can’t take many rests. They need this kid. He changes the entire game for them.
This game is already getting a lot of run on sportscenter and it’s not a bad thing. This game won’t help State in the quality win column, but it does get the attention of just about everyone that watches it. State was up 20…in Cameron. This is a NCAA tournament team and they showed it last night. Yes, to ensure an automatic bid State needs to beat FSU or UNC upcoming week, but if they don’t I still think this team has a chance at squeezing in if they do some work in ACC Tournament. I honestly do not think that it will be an argument however, because I think NC State comes out focused and really takes it to a Florida State team that is just squeaking by right now.