Perhaps Wake Forest is lucky their game with NC State on Wednesday night wasn't on television. Only those people in the building or watching online were able to witness what was arguably the ugliest performance of the 2008-2009 season, an 82-76 loss at the hands of NC State.
"I'm incredibly disappointed with the loss," lamented coach Dino Gaudio. "We gave the ball to them 34 times that they otherwise should not have had. They had 17 second shots and we had 17 turnovers, and that was the difference in the game. 34 extra possessions that we do not box out or we turn it over. You cannot give anyone 34 extra opportunities."
It's beginning to sound cliché, but Wake did not play a very good first half. After a quick start that gave the Deacons a 3 point lead at the first media timeout, things began to unravel. Wake did not box out well, giving NC State 7 more shots in the half. On defense they let the Wolfpack drive to the basket at will, and too many possessions ended in turnovers.
Even when Wake managed a quick six point run towards the end of the half, NC State responded with an equal run of their own, leaving Wake trailing 42-34 going into the locker room. James Johnson was one of few bright spots in the half, scoring 13 points and having a commanding presence when he got in the paint. With Chas McFarland continuing to struggle, Tony Woods looked good in spurts at center. Perhaps most curious, however, was the complete silence of Jeff Teague. Where had he gone?
The second have started just as poorly, and at times looked worse. For the first ten minutes of the half NC State expanded the lead – to as much as 20 points at the 14 minute mark. Despite their poor effort for the first 30 minutes, Wake decided not to pack it in. Just inside the 11 minute mark, a 3 pointer followed by two inbound steals and baskets gave Wake a 7-0 run in only 12 seconds, cutting the lead to ten.
Over the next five minutes Wake couldn't cut into the lead any more, allowing State to grab several costly offensive rebounds and expand the lead back to 15. With the lead at 15, Wake made one final push on the shoulders of Gary Clark. As the clock hit 5 minutes Clark hit a quick two pointer followed by a three pointer, and Teague added a three of his own, cutting the lead to 7 at the four minute mark with the 8-0 run.
NC State, who made 23 of 31 free throws in the game, missed a couple down the stretch and let Wake continue to cut into lead. Inside of two minutes Wake hit two baskets and brought the lead to four. Less than a minute later a three pointer by James Johnson made it a two point game, 78-76. After one NC State free throw Johnson had one more three point opportunity, but could not find the cup. Wake would not get the chance to tie the game again.
NC State played a box-and-one defense on Jeff Teague, frustrating him all night long and only allowing him to take three shots all game. He did have seven assists, but it was not enough. James Johnson led the Wake offense with 18 points, but other than Teague's 11 no one else was in double digits.
Wake has given up many offensive rebounds all season long, but the problem was particularly bad tonight. Late in the second half Wake Forest allowed NC State to grab offensive rebounds off of their own missed free throws, including once by the free throw shooter himself.
Unlike the ugly loss at Miami last week, Wake cannot blame a poor shooting night for the loss. They were 50 percent on the night and held NC State to 42.6 percent. NC State made up for the deficit at the free throw line, shooting nearly twice as many as Wake shot.
"We really need to get to the line more than we did," said Gaudio. Their 31 free throws were big, and I'm not saying that they did not deserve to go the line 31 times. They did a good job getting the ball inside and drawing contact."
Defense breakdowns were bad as well. Wake's defense is designed to pack the inside, and it failed to do that tonight. Gaudio was definitely disappointed, saying that "with our defense, we should never give up a back-door basket, and we gave up several. We tend to stay in tight and stay in front of people more."
There was no good excuse for Wake Forest's flat performance. They were slow getting to rebounds, bad at boxing out, lazy on offense (17 turnovers) and struggled to keep NC State in front of them. They failed to get Jeff Teague involved and seemed to lack heart at times.
Perhaps the comeback at the end provided one glimmer of hope in the loss, as the team never quit trying. They seemed to begin the game unmotivated, but they did not cave when the going was tough.
"I will say this: The guys wearing the black shirts tonight, they never quit. They did not play well at times, but they fought hard to the very end," concluded Gaudio.
Wake must now regroup for a Saturday meeting with Florida State in Winston-Salem.