NC State overcomes Pitt late, 79-76


Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

First-year forward Au’Diese Toney throws down a dunk.

By Stephen Thompson, Staff Writer

Coming off a devastating defeat Tuesday at Wake Forest, Pitt men’s basketball welcomed NC State to the Petersen Events Center Saturday afternoon and walked away with its seventh straight loss, falling to the Wolfpack 79-76.

For the second time in a row, Pitt let a close game slip out of its hands — and the frustration has begun to mount. The Panthers have now lost seven in a row, but head coach Jeff Capel is confident his team will find its way back.  

“I’m proud of my team.” Capel said. “We’re on the ropes a little bit here, but we have to fight our way off of it and we have to do it together.”

Pitt graduate guard Sidy N’Dir, making his first start this season in place of injured junior forward Malik Ellison, converted on an old-fashioned 3-point play to give the Panthers a 6-2 lead in the early minutes of the game.

From there, the Wolfpack began to find their footing. Junior guard CJ Bryce made the first of four 3-pointers to pull NC State within one point of the Panthers. Sophomore forward D.J. Funderburk then collected offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions which led to points for the Wolfpack, who held a 9-6 lead at the 15:24 mark of the first half.

Rebounding woes continued to plague the Panthers, particularly in the first half, as they were beaten 11-3 in that category through in the opening period. That and 11 turnovers allowed NC State to attempt 10 more field goals through the first 20 minutes.

The first half remained a close contest with neither team gaining more than a six-point advantage. But the Panthers looked slow through the first 10 minutes, and Capel noticed.

With 11:18 left to play in the first half, NC State sophomore guard Devon Daniels missed a 3-pointer. The rebound bounced close to sophomore center Terrell Brown, but he was unable to secure the ball and it fell into the hands of Wolfpacl junior guard Eric Lockett. Brown then fouled Lockett to take the game to a media timeout with 11:12 left to play and the game knotted at 14.

As play stopped, Capel walked out on to the floor to scold his team, particularly Brown, for their lack of effort. Senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame lamented the Panthers’ lack of focus afterward.

“It’s frustrating because you are always right there.” Wilson-Frame said. “There are things in close games where… you could say ‘I wish we would have done this better and we might have won.’ If we were a little tighter and more together then we wouldn’t have to dig ourselves out of a hole.”

Out of the media timeout, the Panthers showed renewed energy. Sophomore guard Khameron Davis blocked Dorn’s jumper out of bounds, then first-year guard Xavier Johnson came up with a steal that he turned into three points on the other end.

Both teams would come up empty on five straight possessions before regaining their rhythm. The final four minutes of the first half featured some cleaner play. With the game tied at 29 with 3:53 remaining in the first half, Lockett made a layup to break the game’s fourth tie.

McGowens and sophomore guard Braxton Beverly would then duel for a handful of possessions. McGowens hits a jumper for two, followed by a Beverly 3-pointer, his first from distance. Not to be outdone, McGowens would come up with three points of his own, only this time off of a transition and-one. Beverly responded, hitting another 3-pointer on the subsequent NC State possession to give the Wolfpack a three point lead with 1:33 left in the half.

Off a turnover from McGowens, Chukwuka pinned Dorn’s layup against the backboard, which lead to an emphatic dunk from Toney on the run out. The Wolfpack would enter halftime up by three after sophomore forward DJ Funderburk put home a dunk as time expired.

NC State blitzed the Panthers to open the second half, making 3-pointers on three straight possessions to take a 49-40 lead two minutes in. The Wolfpack continued to build on the hot start and secured their largest lead of the game at 14 with 15:44 left to play.

The Panthers, never ones to fold in the face of a deficit, pushed back. Wilson-Frame hit three 3-pointers to jumpstart an 18-2 Panther run that gave Pitt a two-point lead.

NC State stopped the bleeding with consecutive 3-pointers from Dorn and Bryce to reclaim a four-point lead at the 9:56 mark. Out of a media timeout N’Dir made a pair of free throws and Johnson’s and-one layup kept it a one-point game.

Tied at 72, NC State junior Markell Johnson made his second 3-pointer in as many attempts to give NC State a one-possession lead. After neither team could score on their next possessions, Xavier Johnson collected an offensive rebound and drew a foul on the putback attempt.

He made one of two shots from the line and after Dorn made a free throw to put NC State up by three, the Panthers had the ball with 1:28 left to play.

Toney then committed a poor turnover while looking for a teammate on the wing, giving Markell Johnson a chance to score in transition and likely put the game away. But Johnson missed an open layup and the Panthers retained possession.

The Panthers had three open looks from range to try and tie the game, and came up empty on all of them despite snagging three offensive rebounds on the possession. On the final rebound, Xavier Johnson was fouled and made a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to one with 17 seconds remaining.

Coming out of an NC State timeout, the Panthers were unable to foul until more than seven  seconds had run off. Bryce went to the free throw line and made both shots. NC State called timeout once more, leading 78-75.

The Wolfpack fouled N’Dir intentionally with six seconds left. After both  N’Dir and Bryce made one of two free throws, the Wolfpack still held a three-point lead. Brown grabbed the rebound off off the final miss and passed ahead to N’Dir, but his 3-pointer fell short as the buzzer sounded.

Capel acknowledged his team’s shortcomings on the defensive end, especially defending the 3-pointer. The Wolfpack, typically a poor three point shooting team, shot 52 percent from three on Saturday afternoon.

“Our two-point defense was pretty good… and they made some threes.” Capel said. “They were a team that was shooting 30 percent from three in conference play and over the last four games, 26 percent. They made some today.”

The Wolfpack halted a three-game losing streak and improved to 5-6 in the ACC. The Panthers fall to 12-12 and 2-9 in the ACC. They will travel to Boston Tuesday night and look to get back to winning ways against Boston College. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m.