NC State might not have the peripheral accolades after losing four of six ACC games by a combined seven points, but coach Mark Gottfried knows the team is moving in the right direction going into Thursday's showdown at Duke.
Gottfried and the Wolfpack fell out of both polls after narrow losses to Miami (79-78) and Virginia (58-55) last week. NC State played the majority of the Cavaliers game and the entirety of the Hurricanes' loss without star junior point guard Lorenzo Brown.
Freshman point guard Tyler Lewis eventually took his place in running the Wolfpack and could be enhancing his role as the team awaits Brown's availability for the Duke game.
Below is a transcript from his weekly ACC teleconference:
"Well, I think that Thursday is going to be a good opportunity for our team [at Duke]. Obviously, we were disappointed in our last game, in the finish, and not being able to come out of there with a win. I think our group has a great opportunity to get back on track here in a very tough environment there at Duke."
Some of the things you did well in the last two games allowed you to develop a longer bench and you fought there until the end. How do you reinforce those things after losses because I know your team was down after the Virginia game and Miami game, but after both of those games were there some positives?
"Well, I think there's been a lot of positives. The difficult thing is there is four losses to show for those games. So, I think our team right now understands that — Tyler Lewis stepped up and not only played well, but I think there's confidence that our team gained in him, which is good, and I think that'll help us. I think [redshirt junior center] Jordan [Vandenberg] is giving us some quality minutes. Although they're not a lot, they've been quality for us as an interior player.
"There are a lot of positive things happening, we just have to make sure that we turn those things into winning games, which we've obviously been very close. But we've got to do a few more things a little bit better and turn that around."
You talked about struggling to finish. Obviously the Duke game last year in Cameron was an example of that. Can you use that experience last year as motivation for your team on Thursday?
"I don't think so. I think the guys that played last year, obviously understand what that experience did for our team. But this is a different group, different team. Our young guys have not been into Cameron to play. I think that our team has to develop a mentality where we want to go on the road, we cherish going on the road. That's a challenge for us that we need to grab a hold of. I think it starts this week, because we've played well enough at times to win on the road, but we've come up short a number of times. We've got to be mentally ready."
When you look at this season as a whole, I think perhaps the criticism of your team is that you play to the level of the competition; you get up for the big games, Duke, Miami, but then you play down to lesser competition, like Wake Forest. What do you say to that?
"I would disagree."
How do you explain the inconsistency of your team this year?
"Well, I think that there's a lot of things. I don't think that our team is any more ready to play or less ready to play depending upon who our opponent has been. And I think that we've played hard and sometimes not as well. And sometimes we've not made shots, we've given up a rebound here or there at the end of the game which has cost us, but I don't think you can just blanket our season and make that kind of a — I guess you can, but I would just disagree with it."
When you played Duke the first time it was the first game they played without senior power forward Ryan Kelly. When you look at them now they've had a few weeks to adjust to that. Can you see any difference, or do they present any different problems?
"Well, they've certainly gotten more comfortable playing without him. When you lose a player like him, and we've obviously played without Lorenzo, you get some growing pains because you're learning how to adjust, and they may have appeared to be that way initially with Ryan Kelly. It seems now they seem a lot more comfortable with [freshman power forward] Amile Jefferson and what his role will be with [junior power forward Josh] Hairston, how they're going to score the ball without Kelly stretching the defense with his three and how they're going to defend without Kelly. They certainly to me appear to be a lot more comfortable here now that they're, whatever that is, four or five games into it."
I know it was almost a game-time decision on Brown on Saturday. With another four or five days, are you pretty confident that he'll be back?
"I hope so, but I have no way of knowing. I don't think he was anywhere near being capable to play the other day. He wanted to and he dressed and went out there, but I still thought he was a few days away.
"Now, obviously he's getting treatment around the clock, so we'll see. But I don't anticipate him practicing today, and then I think in the next couple days we'll learn a little bit more."