Quick hits and notes from NC State's 73-71 loss at Georgia Tech in front of 8,760 fans at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta Saturday afternoon.
Play of the game
NC State was on the verge of nearly pulling off one of the best comebacks in its 100-year history. After tailing 68-52 with 4:33 to go and then 69-55 at the under-four official timeout with 3:56 left, there seemed little reason for fans to watch the remaining moments of the game. State though battled back with a spirited 16-4 run to cut Tech's lead to 73-71, and when sophomore guard Julius Mays forced a steal and a jump ball with 15 seconds left, the Pack actually had a chance to tie or win it at the end of regulation.
Junior guard Javier Gonzalez got free for a good look from about 15-feet at the right elbow, but he overshot the rim and clanged the shot off the backboard. A loose ball scramble ensued, and Gonzalez emerged with possession. From his knees, he passed the ball to Mays for three as time expired, but Mays' shot came up short.
Player of the game
Georgia Tech senior forward Zachary Peacock has been a solid and underrated contributor for the Yellow Jackets for the past three years. He is perhaps the ACC's top sixth man, and he had a strong performance Saturday afternoon. He came off the bench to make 7 of 8 shots, including both of his three-point attempts, and connected on 6 of 7 free throws for a co-game high of 22 points. That matched Peacock's high for the season and is just one off his career-best.
How bout that pressure D?
NC State forced a season-high 22 turnovers Saturday, five of them coming in the final 3:56 of the game. The previous high turnover mark by a Wolfpack opponent had been 21 by UNC Greensboro Dec. 31. The Yellow Jackets did not even get a shot at the rim during that time period, thanks to a trapping, full-court press by NC State. The Pack had five steals out of the press, and they ended up with 17 for the game, also a new-season high, shattering the previous mark of 12 State had against Florida and Akron.
Offensive efficiency not there
The problem for State is that their offensive struggles in recent ACC play continued. NC State had 22 turnovers, second-most this year and the highest in a conference game. The Pack also shot just 24 of 68 from the field, or 35.3 percent, and made just 6 of 20 attempts from three-point range.
In State's last four conference games, all losses, they have failed to reach 40.0 percent shooting every time. NC State is 89-of-241 shooting for 36.9 percent during that span, and they are 21 of 73 for 28.8 percent from long range.
Freshmen forwards Josh Davis and Richard Howell earned their first career starts Saturday. Fifth-year senior Farnold Degand did not dress because of an injury, and redshirt sophomore forward Johnny Thomas did not travel for personal reasons. Sophomore wing C.J. Williams did not get off the bench either for the first time this season. The last time Williams did not play in a game was against North Carolina Central Feb. 3, 2009.
Howell had an inauspicious first start however. One game after setting a career-high with 14 points, Howell went just 1 of 6 from the field for two points in 21 minutes before fouling out for the first time in his career. Howell did grab a co-team high nine rebounds.
Senior Dennis Horner, who came off the bench for the first time this year because of Howell starting, and he responded by scoring 14 points and adding four rebounds and three steals.
Davis missed his one shot attempt from the field but went 4 of 6 from the line and added two boards and two blocks.
The other change in the rotation that has been building in recent weeks is freshman DeShawn Painter serving as the backup to junior Tracy Smith in the paint over freshman Jordan Vandenberg. Painter played three minutes Saturday and made two free throws. Painter has now played in five straight games after not playing in the previous six.
Big game for Smith
Against Georgia Tech's highly regarded duo of junior Gani Lawal and freshman Derrick Favors, Smith shined Saturday. He made 9 of 18 shots and 4 of 6 free throws to match Peacock for a game-high 22 points. Smith also added nine rebounds and a career-high six steals, doubling his previous best ironically set against Tech last year.
Lawal entered the game as Tech's leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, but he had just eight points, although with an impressive 11 rebounds and four blocks, on 4-of-11 shooting. Lawal has now scored in single digits in three of his last four ACC games.
Favors, who took an official visit to NC State, made 6 of 7 shots but just 4 of 8 free throws for 16 points to go with eight board and three blocks.
What the loss means
NC State falls to 14-10 for the year and 2-7 in the ACC, remaining tied with Miami for last place in the league. Georgia Tech improved to 17-6 overall and is once again above .500 in the ACC at 5-4. NC State is now 2-2 against ranked opponents.
NC State now leads the overall series 50-35, but saw their two-game winning streak against the Jackets snapped. NC State has still won nine of the last 14 games in the series. Georgia Tech is 21-14 in games in Atlanta, although just 2-3 in the last five contests.
The loss ensures that for the 21st straight season the Pack has had double-digit loss totals. The last time NC State did not was the 1988-89 campaign when the Pack went 22-9 overall.