NC State's disappointing run ends earlier than it should have

DAYTON, Ohio -- It’s easy to say a team’s season-ending loss was a microcosm of an entire season, but North Carolina State’s defeat at the hands of Temple had all the ingredients.

The Wolfpack played with energy for stretches and were stagnant and lazy at other times. They played defense on certain possessions and weren’t focused on other ones. There was momentum and enthusiasm in the second half but a look of disinterest for long periods in the first.

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That’s essentially how the season went for NC State, which entered the season as the preseason favorite in the ACC but never lived up to expectations. Temple ended the disappointing run with a 76-72 win in the Round of 64 on Friday.

Crafty Temple guard Khaliff Wyatt had his usual array of scoop shots, fadeaways and contested jumpers en route to 31 points, and Jake O’Brien knocked down four 3-pointers and had 18 points.

For Temple coach Fran Dunphy, it was quite a relief. The Philadelphia native advanced past the Round of 64 for only the third time in his career, despite this marking his 15th appearance in the big dance.

In the preseason this likely would have been deemed a mismatch -- and on paper, the Wolfpack still had the edge at nearly every position on the floor. Except when it came to giving consistent effort and playing hard.

“I think we just needed to come out with a little better energy to start the game,” senior Scott Wood said. “We were just kind of lackadaisical. There’s no reason that it’s the NCAA tournament and we should come out sluggish.”

Take away “NCAA tournament,” and you have a quote that could be applied to many of NC State’s games this season.

The Wolfpack were picked to win the ACC back in October, marking only the third time since 1970 that they entered the season as the No. 1 team in the league. They had the league’s preseason player of the year and the preseason rookie of the year.

NC State rarely played like that, though, getting hammered by Oklahoma State in the first couple of weeks of the season and losing five of seven after starting ACC play with three consecutive wins.

Throughout the season there were times they looked like a Final Four contender and times they looked like a borderline NIT team. It was the same on Friday.

“This particular team never seemed to get to a point where we could sustain and maintain great defensive effort the entire game,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “That’s on me.”

Talent was never the question with this Wolfpack team. Future NBA players litter the upper part of the roster, with up to five players capable of being drafted in the next two NBA drafts.

Not surprisingly, people fell in love with that sort of personnel. After all, NC State went to the Sweet 16 last season, returned several key parts and added three McDonald’s All-Americans.

A win over Duke and a dominant performance against North Carolina once again showed how good the Wolfpack could be. Their ceiling was as high as many of the top-10 teams in the country.

Or was it?

Remember, this was a team that barely made the NCAA tournament last season -- a fact overshadowed by the two March wins a year ago. They weren’t that impressive over the course of an entire season in 2011-12, and aside from a couple of big wins this year, it was just mostly inconsistency.

“The core part of our group was the same group that was 5-7 [in the ACC last year] at one point,” Gottfried. “So the whole year has become this struggle to reach higher than we were, and we just kept reaching and couldn’t get there, and you just seemed to always be falling short.”

This team should have been better. And the box score on Friday isn’t all that damning to the Wolfpack. They shot nearly 56 percent from the field and dominated the glass. They doubled up Temple when it came to points in the paint.

There was a stretch where NC State scored on eight straight possessions, and on 10 of 11 overall. But 10 first-half turnovers and allowing the Owls to shoot 53.3 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes ultimately buried the Wolfpack.

“When you come into the season with a target on your back like we had, people are going to give you their best shot,” senior forward Richard Howell said. “There were times when we came out and didn’t give other teams our best shot.”

In the NCAA tournament, that’s no excuse.

And as a result, a team that entered the season with all the expectations in the world is headed home on the first Friday of the big dance. 

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