It's Disappointing and Makes Me Want to CRY!
For most Wolfpack fans, the glass is half full. The team has been transformed, the players have been transformed, and to some extent expectations have been transformed. Under the leadership of Mark Gottfried and staff, what was a pathetically run, out of shape and emotionally absent team has become a factor in the ACC and for sure a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. What we've seen this year is pretty much the most any state fan dared to hope for. And we won't even talk about next year, at least not quite yet.
But you can't be a real State fan without being in some pain today after the way things unfolded last night in Cameron. I just couldn't let this one go by without a few comments.
I can't imagine anything more fun that the way we played for 30 minutes last night. The style that Gottfried has them playing, the 11-0 fast break advantage in the first half, the athleticism Calvin exhibited making every Dookie look slow and lazy, the confidence of our mid-range shooters, the fact that even when we gave up a basket we simply pushed back harder and faster, ALL give us great joy and hope and pride. After watching 30 minutes of that it is hard to understand why any recruit wouldn't want to be part of it and our bright future (Amile Jefferson).
No, there isn't a conspiracy among ACC Officials to favor Duke or Carolina or anything even bordering on that. BUT, officials are human, and officiating during a game is an active organism with a life of its own. For the most part the officials played no major role in the 1st half. CJ Williams picked up 3 early, but every now and then that will happen, even to one of the best defenders in the league.
But what took place in the first few minutes of the 2nd half was unfortunate for NC State. In the early minutes of the half, CJ is called for his 4th foul on an off the ball play that wasn't a foul in the first half. The first half of the game had been called pretty loose. If you could get an honest answer from the ref that called that foul, I'd be willing to bet 10 seconds after making the call, he wished he hadn't. They are human, things happen. All 3 refs recognized the fact that NC State had just been very disadvantaged by a call of something that probably wasn't the type of thing they had called the entire first half. So, the next time down the court, a Duke defender makes the exact same type of contact, a small hold that had been going on all game, but had just been called on State in a huge play, so it had to be called on Duke.
Now at this point, both teams are pissed off, the crowd is getting more vocal, and both coaches are screaming at the refs. The emotional level cranked up another level, and without the intention of intervening in such a way, the officials had imposed a completely new interpretation of what is isn't a foul. Having done this, they pretty much had to stick with it. What followed was a flurry of fouls that likely in the first half would have been no-calls. The calls were pretty much evenly distributed, causing players on both sides foul-trouble and causing both coaches to have to adjust. I think you can make a strong argument that if that ticky-tack foul against CJ Williams hadn't been called, this game plays out completely differently.
NC State doesn't have it. NC State may have the best starting 5 in the ACC. Not the most talented, but with the exception of the UNC game, NC State's starters have beaten the starters of every team they have played this year. State starters beat Syracuse, beat Stanford, beat Indiana, and beat Duke. But state has no depth. You can argue whether Gottfried could have developed depth by this point, or whether the cupboard is just bare, but we don't have it. Between the fact that key players couldn't participate for much of the 2nd half, and the high number of minutes being played by those who did play left open a door for Duke that couldn't easily be closed.
Coach K was bold in orchestrating this comeback. I think you'd have a hard time finding another coach in the country that would have used timeouts the way he did to help keep that comeback going. It goes against all conventional wisdom to put so much effort and resources (timeouts) into a run with 7+ minutes left in the game. But K masterfully recognized that if he could make a big run while State had key players on the bench, and that if he could get it below 8 or so, the game would completely change. By pulling his levers when he did, he took advantage of a window that wouldn't be open later and I believe that was a huge factor in the comeback. I also can't say enough about the performance of Seth Curry. With State unable to play great defense because of fatigue and foul trouble, Curry took advantage of the high screen to perfection.
The Scars of Losing
I texted a Duke friend at half-time "Don't worry. We forgot who we were because of the black uniforms. State will show up in the 2nd half. Collapse to follow".
NC State fans "expect" to lose games like this. We have been through hell as fans for way too long, and this is just how we are. It is going to take time to change that. As much as we feel pain for loses, it has to be far worse for players. These players have had years of disappointment. I believe that re-wires your brain to some extent. That cannot help but mess with your confidence. Along with fatigue, I believe that is a key part to why NC State couldn't close the door on Duke, and couldn't respond with plays in the last few minutes of the game. Getting your body in shape, learning a real offense, learning to trust your teammates and coaches are things you can learn in 6 months. Learning how to win the big game is going to take longer.
I'm really confident we will earn how to win big games like this. The future looks bright and whether or not we ever become on par with Duke and Carolina every year or not, games like this will start going our way occasionally in the future. I'm really looking forward to that.