“Just one of those things,” he said. “I wanted to win so bad for our guys because losing stinks. Losing’s no fun, and we’ve taken quite a few on the chin. I thought, ‘Man, we’re going to break through the barrier. It’ll be great for our young men and just maybe change the season around.’ And we just weren’t able to break through. So hopefully we can do it on Wednesday (at home against Notre Dame).”
N.C. State (19-5, 9-4 ACC) completed its season sweep of the Jackets following their 76-64 win at McCamish Pavilion on Jan. 17. Tech (8-15, 1-12) had won four in a row at PNC Arena before Saturday.
The Jackets led 61-58 after successfully breaking N.C. State’s full-court press with a layup by guard Miles Kelly with 4:10 left in the game. But after Kelly’s basket, the Jackets did not score again until 25 seconds remained in the game, by which point the Wolfpack had ripped off an 11-0 run and led 69-61, the Wolfpack faithful getting louder with each score.
The first four Tech possessions after Kelly’s layup: Forward Ja’von Franklin appeared to misread guard Deebo Coleman on a pass near midcourt, resulting in the ball going out of bounds. Kelly, despite being so open for a 3-pointer that Pastner said he heard counterpart Kevin Keatts utter a profanity in frustration, shot an airball. Pressured, Coleman tried a pass along the sideline from midcourt to guard Lance Terry that went out of bounds. With his team now down 65-61, guard Kyle Sturdivant spotted Coleman in the corner, open for a 3-pointer with about 1:50 to play, but his pass was deflected and stolen. Tech finished the game with 17 turnovers to N.C. State’s nine, its second-highest total of the season and almost six above its season average.
“We knew coming in the game they were going to try to press, or whatever, but I think it kind of sped us up,” Franklin said. “We were just trying to go too fast, and they got a couple stops late.”
Franklin led the way for the Jackets with 16 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five blocks. With center Rodney Howard unavailable (Achilles tendon and ankle injuries), Franklin played a season-high 37 minutes. He played every minute of the second half before fouling out with 11 seconds left, as Pastner didn’t make a substitution in the second half until then, riding the starting lineup (Sturdivant, Coleman, Kelly, Franklin and Terry).
With a cohesive group, Tech functioned better on offense (aside from the turnovers), shooting 44.1% from the field. The shooting percentage was the Jackets’ highest in its past 10 games.
“I think we were just being very intentional moving without the ball, and we were sharing it,” said Sturdivant, who had 13 points and four assists, but also turned it over three times.
The Jackets held guards Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, who entered the game averaging a combined 35.8 points per game, to 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting. It was their lowest combined scoring output of the season. On the road against a team competing for an NCAA Tournament berth, the Jackets performed far better than they had throughout most of the season.
However, Pastner’s decision to rely so heavily on his starting five may have been a factor in the offense’s downturn in the final minutes. After having made 22.6% of their 3-point tries in the past five games, the Jackets made seven of their first 16 3-point tries (43.8%), but one of their final eight. Franklin was worn out by having to defend N.C. State forward D.J. Burns, a deft scorer who had a two-inch and 61-pound advantage on the 6-foot-7, 214-pound Franklin. Burns led all scorers, with 24 points on 11-for-21 shooting.
Sticking with one fivesome for prolonged minutes isn’t out of the ordinary for Pastner. All of the starting five played at least 36 of the 40 minutes.
“Maybe we got a little tired here and there, but that kind of is what it is,” Pastner said.
After losing by 43 points to Duke one week earlier and then succumbing Wednesday to a Louisville team that was on a 10-game losing streak, the Jackets subjected themselves to another low before an announced crowd of 15,473. Tech now has lost more consecutive games than any Jackets team since the 1980-81 team, which in its second season in the ACC finished the season 4-23 and 0-14 in the conference, prompting the firing of coach Dwane Morrison and ushering in the reign of Bobby Cremins. Saturday’s result, however improved the Jackets’ play was, removed one more opportunity for Pastner and the Jackets to turn the season around as his hold on his job grows increasingly tenuous.
Tech survived a potential turning point a little past the midway point of the half. The Jackets seemed to be coming unglued, turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions and then coming up empty on a fourth when Coleman’s drive to the basket was blocked. After a 3-point play by the Wolfpack tied the score at 25-25, Coleman had to call timeout when he couldn’t inbounds the ball against N.C. State’s press. But Tech answered with a free throw by Franklin and a 3-pointer by Terry for a 29-25 lead.
Tech was bolstered by the return of Terry, back after missing four games with a hamstring injury, and guard Deivon Smith, who missed the Louisville game with an ankle injury.
However, the Jackets still went into the half trailing as they had in each game of the losing streak, again befallen by a buzzer-beating basket, this time a 3-pointer by N.C. State guard Casey Morsell. It was part of a 10-0 run to close the half, almost matching the 11-0 run that the Wolfpack threw at the Jackets in the final minutes of the second half.
“We did a good job on our game plan on following execution,” Pastner said. “Just didn’t get it done on some other areas.”