SYRACUSE, N.Y. The positives, said N.C. State freshman Kyle Washington, that’s what the Wolfpack needs to take from Saturday’s close call at No. 1 Syracuse.
Almost doesn’t count in the ACC, but there was enough for the Wolfpack to hang its hat on after a 56-55 loss to the top-ranked Orange in front of 31,572 people at the Carrier Dome.
“That’s the No. 1 team in the nation, they’re a very good team, but we showed how good we are, too,” Washington said.
“If we play like that with the same intensity and same focus, who should we lose to on the rest of our schedule?”
Washington, who coach Mark Gottfried labeled “terrific” after his 14 points and 10 rebounds, was one of the biggest positives for the Wolfpack (16-9, 6-6 ACC) in a disheartening loss Saturday.
N.C. State did have the lead for the first 10 minutes of the second half, even by five points with about 6 minutes to play and 55-54 with 10 seconds left.
But Syracuse (25-0, 12-0), as has been its way this season, clawed back and made the key defensive play when it counted. Close calls are the calling card for this Orange team, which hasn’t lost since the Final Four last April. Half of the Orange’s ACC wins have been by six points or fewer.
“Down the stretch we weren’t good and you go down the stretch with too many games like we have had, you’re going to have some of those games where you don’t make good plays,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Tonight was that game and we were able to make a couple of good plays finally toward the end there and one big play at the end.”
After Washington hit a streaking T.J. Warren with a fullcourt pass, Washington thought the Wolfpack had pulled off an upset of No. 1 for the second straight season.
Instead, the Wolfpack’s inability to take care of the ball in the final minute – a problem in a one-point win at Miami seven days earlier – came back to cost N.C. State.
“We had the lead, so we just have to execute better down the stretch,” Washington said.
Washington, Gottfried and everyone else with N.C. State left unnerved by the play involving Warren, who had a game-high 23 points, with 13.6 seconds left.
“I watched the tape and it’s hard for me to walk out of here without feeling frustrated with that one,” Gottfried said. “We’ve seen that play a hundred times. That’s a hard one for T.J.”
After losing a similar game, in similar fashion to Wake Forest on Jan. 15, N.C. State had a built-in reservoir of frustration before referee Mike Stuart waved off Warren’s late basket, which would have given the Wolfpack a 57-54 lead.
After the long inbounds pass from Washington, Warren fought through a foul by Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney and made a layup.
“I thought it was going to be over because I thought it was going to be an ‘and one,’ ” Washington said.
Cooney, who was trailing Warren, fouled him in the paint and tried to prevent the shot. Warren got through the contact but Stuart ruled the foul came before the shot.
N.C. State, which was called for 15 fouls in the second half, compared to six for Syracuse, wasn’t in the bonus, so it got the ball underneath its own basket.
Ralston Turner, whose three free throws with 62 seconds left gave N.C. State a 55-53 lead, passed the ball inbounds to freshman guard Cat Barber in the corner. Barber rushed a pass to Warren at the left elbow, which Syracuse forward Rakeem Christmas stepped in front of for the steal.
Christmas fed point guard Tyler Ennis for the fastbreak and Ennis fed forward C.J. Fair for a layup, which Turner knocked out of the cylinder for a goaltending call and two points for Syracuse with 6.7 seconds left.
Ennis and Fair, front-runners for ACC Player of the Year, have mostly carried Syracuse this season but it was Christmas who delivered Saturday. Christmas finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks.
The trio combined on the game-winning play but even without the basket from Warren, N.C. State had a chance to prevent the Orange from getting to that point.
“I thought we’d hold it and they had to foul us,” said Turner, who finished with 13 points. “That’s not the way it happened; give credit to them, they made a play at the end.”
The Wolfpack also had the ball with 30 seconds left and a 55-54 lead after Fair only made one of two free throws. The Orange double-teamed junior guard Desmond Lee, who had a late turnover in the Miami win, and forced a turnover from him with 21.5 seconds left.
Barber, who only played 12 minutes, got the ball back for the Wolfpack after drawing a charge on Ennis with 14.9 seconds left.
But Syracuse was still able to squeeze out another ACC win.
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