Tech narrowly falls to Wolfpack in 76-82 loss

Senior guard Kyle Sturdivant maneuvers around the NC State defense. Sturdivant hit several timely shots in the game, but ultimately the Jackets could not close the game out in the clutch. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

Coming off of a monumental 74-73 upset over No. 3 North Carolina, the Jackets were looking to complete the North Carolina victory tour against another ACC opponent, the NC State Wolfpack. 

The Wolfpack were a solid test for the Jackets — their offense is top-five in overall points, turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio. On the defensive end, their 8.14 steals per game ranks fourth in the ACC. In short, NC State makes few mistakes and punishes offenses that turn the ball over. The Jackets rank second-to-last in the ACC in turnover margin, so this game presented a challenge for head coach Damon Stoudamire’s young squad. 

NC State came out aggressive from the tip-off as senior guard DJ Horne drove into the paint and made the midrange floater over two Tech defenders. In five minutes, the Wolfpack went up 13-4 after some early misses from Tech. They forced the electric Jackets freshman guard Naithan George, fresh off a game-winning layup over UNC, into a turnover and parlayed it into a three-pointer from senior guard Michael O’Connell. 

Fortunately, George answered with a three-pointer, and the Jackets defense buckled down. They held the Wolfpack to only two points across the next five minutes while the offense found some success in the paint. 

Sophomore forward Tafara Gapare, senior forward Tyzhaun Claude and junior guard Miles Kelly were all able to score against NC State’s big man duo of senior forward DJ Burns Jr. and junior forward Mohamed Diarra. 

Still, the Wolfpack led 15-13 before they went on a 10-2 run. Stoudamire called a timeout to give the Jackets time to regroup, but the team  did a poor job of taking the ball. Junior guard Kowacie Reeves Jr., who only averages 1.3 turnovers per game, had back-to-back turnovers, while freshman forward Baye Ndongo also coughed the ball up. 

A head injury forced Ndongo to leave the UNC matchup, and despite a quick return, he looked out of tune in this game. Out of the timeout, the Jackets played with renewed energy. Claude kept the possession alive with a huge offensive rebound, which set senior guard Kyle Sturdivant up to knock down the jumper. 

NC State’s interior defense continued to look susceptible, regularly sending Jackets to the free throw line. Kelly tied the game up on a mid range jumper in the face of Wolfpack senior forward Casey Morsell. 

Although NC State answered to make it 33-31,  the ball found Kelly again with barely a minute in the quarter, and he hit a beautiful three-pointer to make it 34-33. 

Sturdivant then drove in for the floater and gave the Jackets the lead heading into halftime. 

Outside of ghastly 27.3% shooting from three-point range on 11 shots and turnovers, Tech played a solid first half. 

Tech’s defense held up — the Wolfpack shot a miserable 30% from the field and 27.8% from three-point range on 18 attempts. 

Reeves opened the second half up with a three-pointer off the assist from George before Horne answered back with a three-pointer of his own. Tech expanded the lead to 44-40 before the Wolfpack started to come back into the game. 

O’Connell came alive as a facilitator for NC State, finding Horne and Morsell for buckets that gave the Wolfpack a 46-44 lead. A three-pointer by Kelly broke a 0-5 streak from the Jackets’ offense, but NC State ballooned their lead to 12 after yet another cold streak from Tech. The Jackets started to pile up misses from three, which killed their offensive momentum and allowed NC State to take control of the game. 

Tech’s defense started to tire, letting junior guard Jayden Taylor take over in the late game. In addition to an insane one-handed rebound early in the game, Taylor put pressure on the Jackets at all three levels. His thunderous dunk with nine minutes left sealed a 62-48 lead for NC State. 

Although plenty of time remained in the game, the Jackets could not get enough stops on the defensive end. Reeves began to find his shot from three-point range, hitting two threes down the stretch, and George hit a big three to cut the lead to six with two minutes left. 

Unfortunately, the Jacket’s defense continuously fouled Horne, who converted his free throw attempts to maintain the lead. A late three by Kelly and a pair of free throws from Sturdivant cut the NC State lead to five with 17 seconds. 

However, Horne immediately drew a pair of fouls on Gapare and sealed the game with his 10th and 11th free throws. At the final buzzer, the score was 82-76, ending with the Wolfpack victory. 

Dropping this game after the UNC win is disappointing, but there are still positives to take away. Even if Ndongo did not look entirely healthy, his presence in the lineup was encouraging. Kelly and George led the team in points with 20 and 18 respectively, while Kelly added 10 rebounds for the double-double. 

The team also improved their shooting from three-point range between the first and second half rather than shooting themselves entirely out of the game. 

After playing Wake Forest at McCamish on Tuesday, the Jackets will travel to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY. to play the Louisville Cardinals in an ACC road matchup.