N.C. State found itself in another close game Saturday, but this time the Wolfpack made the big plays late in a gritty 72-63 victory at Florida State.
The Pack, whose 19-point first-half lead disappeared with 4 minutes left, closed the game with a 12-3 run to earn a critical conference road victory.
“We had a great start, offensively made some shots; we were very aggressive, which was important for us,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “But more importantly, we responded after they made their run. Sometimes that’s hard to do. You build a lead, (the) other team comes back and ties the game, and now the outcome is in the balance. Being able to make one more push out was important. I was proud of our guys for the answer.”
The Seminoles, down 34-15 early, tied the score at 60 on a tip with 4 minutes left.
Wolfpack guard Ralston Turner (15 points) responded with a second huge 3-pointer in the half, drilling a left-corner trey with 2:45 left after a timeout to draw up an inbounds play.
“Play to win,” Turner said. “I recognized at the time someone needed to step up. Within the means of our offense, I just tried to find spots and get us going. Regardless of the score, if we play 40 minutes hard, we like our chances.”
After Florida State pulled within 65-63, Trevor Lacy made two free throws and then broke down Xavier Rathan-Mayes on the dribble to nail a pull-up jumper with 32 seconds remaining for a 69-63 lead.
“It’s contagious,” said Lacey, who scored 11 of his team-high 17 points in the second half. “One shot goes in, and we all feel like we can make the next shot. We’ve built that trust where we can be aggressive when we need to score.”
Lacey’s scoring outburst didn’t surprise Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.
“Lacey is an outstanding player and one of the best I’ve seen in a long time of being able to make tough shots,” Hamilton said. “They’re capable and talented enough to make tough shots, and that’s why they’ll be a factor in the ACC race.”
N.C. State (13-6, 4-2 ACC) picked up huge first-half points from a new starter and several role players in the absence of starting point guard Cat Barber, who sat out after a death in the family.
“Cat got a phone call late (Friday) night, and it was difficult time for him, someone real close to him lost their life,” Gottfried said. “(Saturday) morning he was grieving in a big way. He just said, ‘I don’t want to hurt our team. It may be better if I don’t play.’ I appreciate that about him, and I think our guys stepped up and rallied.”
Florida State (9-9, 1-4) cut the deficit to 42-30 by halftime and then to two with nine minutes left, with Seminoles 6-foot-8 guard Montay Brandon scoring 15 of his game-high 20 points in the second half.
“We did not do a bad job contesting shots in the first half; they just made tough shots,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They made plays because they’re talented. Coach Gottfried recognizes that and is allowing them to play to their strengths. I’m not sure I could give anyone on my team the freedom to take the same kinds of tough shots. He recognizes they can make them.”
However, the Wolfpack never got back in the rhythm of crisp interior passing and fearless shot-making that helped them build the early lead. N.C. State turned the ball over nine times in the second half, versus only five in the first half.
“We struggled on the road the last few games, and it was really important for us to just come out with energy and try to get out in transition to make some easy buckets and get us going,” Lacey said. “Give them some credit: They really got after us defensively in the second half and made us make plays. We didn’t get to really run our offense or get good looks. I don’t want to say it bothered us, but we needed to make an adjustment, and we didn’t adjust too well.”
A free throw and an uncontested dunk by freshman Cody Martin – starting in place of Barber – rounded out the scoring for the Wolfpack, who heads to Miami (12-4, 2-1) looking to win consecutive games for the first time since early December.
“If you have any desire to be in the NCAA tournament, which our guys do, you’ve got to find a way to win on the road,” Gottfried said. “You’ve got to figure it out, withstand runs, overcome obstacles.
“I watched Miami at Duke, and I watched them carve Duke up like a side of fries,” he added. “We better get ourselves ready, because they’re playing at a high level and with a lot of confidence. For us, it will be a big challenge.”