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December 4, 2013

Looking back: Pack has been struggling in recent Challenges

NC State will try to improve on a 5-8 record in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. The Pack started the made-for-television series winning five of its first eight games, but are currently mired in a five-game losing streak. Here's a look back at the Wolfpack's history in the Challenge.

1999: NC State 61, No. 19 Purdue 59

The Pack was undefeated at 3-0 and travelled to West Lafayette, Ind., to play at Purdue, who was 2-1 but also ranked No. 19 in the country and had a star forward in Brian Cardinal. Purdue led the entire second half until 15.2 seconds left. That's when NC State point guard Justin Gainey nailed a game-winning three-pointer to help NCSU upset the Boilermakers. It turned out that upset gave the ACC a 5-4 win in the Challenge.

2000: NC State 84, Penn State 76

NC State hosted its first game in the Challenge limping into a contest against Penn State with a 2-2 record. The Nittany Lions were led by the Crispin brothers Joe and Jon and about to embark on one of its better seasons in hoops. On this night, NCSU, who would finish the year just 13-16, cruised to an 84-76 win. Penn State would go on to reach the Sweet 16 by upsetting UNC in the second round of the NCAA Tournament later in the year. Once again though, NCSU's win may have been the difference in the ACC prevailing 5-4.

2001: Ohio State 64, NC State 50

Undefeated NCSU faced its first challenging test of the year after beginning the campaign with five relatively easy opponents. They were not ready for the Buckeyes, and fell 64-50 in a sluggish effort. The ACC still won the Challenge 5-3.

2002: NC State 74, Northwestern 49

Hard to believe there was a time when a college basketball team would have played just two games before the challenge, but that happened in 2002. NCSU improved to 3-0 with an easy triumph over the Wildcats, giving the ACC a clinching fifth win in the Challenge.

2003: Michigan 68, NC State 61

Back on the road in the Challenge, undefeated NCSU, who was briefly ranked in the top 25 prior to arriving to Ann Arbor, lost its first game of the year and was one of just two ACC teams to falter in the Challenge that season.

2004: No. 13 NC State 60, Purdue 53

With the Pack riding high in the polls at No. 13, Purdue was supposed to be its stiffest test to date after State had four easy wins. Turned out the Boilermakers were not much of a challenge in Raleigh as State won a solid victory. The ACC won the Challenge 7-2, again.

2005: No. 14 Iowa 45, No. 25 NC State 42

If there was such a thing as a moral victory, this may have been one. In fact, despite the loss in a highly competitive defensive struggle at Iowa, NCSU jumped four spots in the poll following the game. The ACC won again, this time 6-5.

2006: NC State 74, Michigan 67

NC State fell behind 14-4 and then lost starting point guard Engin Atsur on a team short on depth anyway. The reshuffled Pack lineup featured wing Gavin Grant playing a lot at the point, and somehow State rallied for an exciting seven-point win over favored Michigan. NCSU improved to 5-0 with the win, and the ACC routed the Big 10 8-3.

2007: No. 10 Michigan State 81, No. 24 NC State 58

Fresh off a win over No. 20 Villanova, NC State looked like a team rising up the ladder in college basketball. Then they went to East Lansing and got a dose of reality. Michigan State crushed NCSU from start to finish. The ACC still prevailed 8-3 however. The Pack would end this year on a nine-game losing streak, finishing last in the ACC and disqualified for playing in the Challenge in 2008.

2009: Northwestern 65, NC State 53

This was the first time that NCSU had lost a challenge game at home, and in the process lost its first game of the season after starting 5-0. Michael Thompson scored 22 points, including a crucial three-pointer with 1:35 left to give Northwestern a 60-52 cushion. The Big 10 would win the Challenge for the first time, 6-5.

2010: Wisconsin 87, NC State 48

In what could have only been described as a debacle in Madison, Wisc., Wisconsin led 29-21 when they went on a staggering 23-0 run that stretched from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second, NCSU's worst non conference loss the Pack lost by 39 points to a team called "NC Pre-Flight" in the 1943-44 season. This game was probably the beginning of the end of the Sidney Lowe-era as NCSU's basketball coach. The Big 10 again prevailed 6-5.

2011: Indiana 86, NC State 75

Two upstart, young teams squared off in a game at the RBC Center that was much closer than the score indicated. NCSU had a 63-56 lead with 7:38 to go, and Indiana had to call a timeout to regroup. NCSU then 1 of 6 from the free throw line, with one miss coming on the front end of a one-and-one, and the Hoosiers went on a 12-5 run to tie the game at 68-68 with 4:19 left. IU was up 73-70 with 2:55 to go when official Earl Walton whistled a controversial intentional foul on NCSU's C.J. Leslie. The ultimate result would be that Indiana would take a 76-70 lead and NCSU did not recover. The Big 10 won the Challenge 8-4.

2012: No. 3 Michigan 79, No. 18 NC State 72

NCSU rode into the season with sky-high expectations, but an early-season blowout loss to Oklahoma State followed by a frighteningly close call to UNC-Asheville raised concerns heading into a marquee matchup at Michigan. The Pack fell behind 30-18 in Ann Arbor and trailed 73-58 in the second half before going on a 10-0 spurt to cut the Wolverines lead to 73-68 with 2:11 to go. The Pack could never get closer than five however. The Challenge would end in a 6-6 tie.

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