DAYTON, Ohio This is where the season ends for N.C. State, on the corner of disappointment and despair in Dayton.
A season that started with so much hope lasted 40 minutes in the NCAA tournament. Temple, with 31 points from Khalif Wyatt, eliminated N.C. State with a 76-72 win in the round of 64 on Friday afternoon.
There was neither an ACC title, as was predicted before the season started, nor was there another NCAA run for the Wolfpack (24-11), only a season of missed opportunities.
After the loss, second-year coach Mark Gottfried tried to explain what went wrong not only on Friday against Temple but throughout the season.
Gottfried talked about specific issues, such as on defense, but also bigger-picture problems with maturity and focus.
“I think this team struggled with a lot of things,” Gottfried said. “We had some immaturity at times. It just seemed hard at times to have everybody buy in all the way. For us to get better in the future, everybody needs to.”
The Sweet 16 finish from last March seemed so far away on Friday while Temple was creating turnovers, burying shots and building a 16-point lead at the half.
N.C. State got 20 points from junior forward C.J. Leslie and 22 points and nine assists from junior guard Lorenzo Brown, in perhaps their last college game, but the issues from the first half sunk the Wolfpack.
Indifference on defense and careless ballhandling led to a game-changing 18-3 run by Temple after the game was tied at 15 at the 12-minute mark in the first half.
“Everything that could wrong in the first half did,” said forward Richard Howell, who finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
The Owls (24-9) did just about everything right with Wyatt and forward Jake O’Brien (18 points) turning the Wolfpack’s mistakes into points.
N.C. State trailed by as many as 18 in the second half before it made a move.
Senior Scott Wood didn’t score in the first 34 minutes of the game, but he buried consecutive 3-pointers – the second made it 63-60 – at 3:09. Wyatt countered with two of his 12 free throws on Temple’s next possession.
N.C. State had one chance to tie the game in the final 2 minutes but Brown’s 3-pointer, while his team was down 65-62, bounced out and the Owls made just enough free throws to close out the win.
“We really did fight hard, we fought back really, really well, but boy, the start was not good,” Gottfried said.
The only player who started with any energy was Leslie, who promised “to be me” on Thursday and he delivered. Leslie finished 8 of 12 from the field and added five rebounds and two blocks before fouling out with 6 seconds left.
While Leslie was dunking and knocking down shots in the first half, Wood was silent from the outside, T.J. Warren couldn’t score and Brown had six points. The struggles with the ball, including 10 turnovers, were only compounded by problems on defense.
“I think we just needed to come out with a little better energy,” Wood said. “We were just kind of lackadaisical and gave them some easy ones.”
Gottfried lamented the season-long quest to solve some of the problems on defense. He said the team could never “sustain and maintain great defensive effort” throughout the season.
Gottfried also talked about the team’s inability to turn the promise of the preseason into anything more substantial than one-and-done NCAA appearance.
“The whole year became this struggle to reach higher than we were,” Gottfried said. “We kept reaching and we couldn’t get there and we just seemed to always be falling short.”