RBC CENTER/RALEIGH—Frankly, the big story would have been if Wake Forest—losers of seven of their last nine games, including a 36-point drubbing by N.C. State three weeks ago in Winston-Salem—had beaten the Wolfpack in Raleigh Saturday afternoon. In fairness, the Demon Deacons made N.C. State work for today’s 87-76 win, a common refrain for a Wolfpack squad that hasn’t notched an easy victory since, well, three weeks ago against Wake Forest.
Instead, my takeaway will be something far more mundane and perplexing. In a world where “coach-speak” and “player-speak” are the order of the day, the postgame press conference performance by Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik was an exercise in existentialism. There was no ranting or raving, no wild-eyed lunacy and no pronounced expressions of madness. Just a slowly simmering attempt to find meaning in athletic existence in the wake of losing one of the few conference games this year that the Wake gaffer thought was there for the taking. I’ve titled it “The Ballad of Bzdelik.”
“There were two plays in particular that really hurt us: a seven-point play early in the first half when our player pushed one of their players going in from behind, and that’s a flagrant foul… and then in the second half Wood made a three and knocked in the free throw—he was fouled. That’s a seven-point play and a four-point play, that’s 11 points right there in two particular plays that I just can’t have. But, it’s a hard fought game, our guys did a lot of good things in this game. They made shots, we made shots, they made more shots. Questions?”—Bzdelik
Trailing 7-4 early, C.J. Leslie converted a dunk almost five minutes into the first half, drawing a flagrant foul from Daniel Green in the process. Leslie converted both free throws and, upon receiving possession as a result of the flagrant, C.J. Williams nailed a three-pointer to give the Wolfpack a 14-7 lead.
However, Wake Forest continued to push a Wolfpack squad still discounting their opponent—perhaps understandably—based on its woeful performance three weeks ago. Wake, who came into this game shooting 32 percent from three-point range (25 percent in ACC play) shot 58.8 percent from behind the arc. A Scott Wood three-pointer put N.C. State up seven at the 15-minute mark of the first half. However, Wake bounced back, culminating with a three from C.J. Harris—who led his team with 21 points—that gave the Demon Deacons its own seven-point advantage, its largest of the game, with 6:30 left in the opening half.
However, a suddenly energized Pack squad finished the half with a 20-4 run to lead by nine at intermission.
“Our calculations show about 34 transitions points, because we calculate it different than what you would see here; they have 19 fast break points…well, we have 34 transition points. And there was a period there in the first half where we didn’t get back well and they were able to fuel their offense with their transition.”—Bzdelik
Most of the game’s statistical differences are negligible: State finished with four more rebounds, four more assists, two more steals, and three more blocks. The two key categories to State’s advantage are that they went to the free throw line twice as much as Wake—converting nine more than the Demon Deacons—and outscored Wake on the break by a whopping 19-4 margin. Or, 34 to…oh never mind.
[After a reporter pointed out that State went on runs of 12-0, 20-4, 13-2 and 11-2 over the course of the game] “That 12-0 run, the 7-point play was part of it, okay? And our radio people told us if you take away those runs that we outscored them by 19. So, yeah, they had too many runs on us, and as I watch this film on the bus ride home I’ll see that…we just can’t have three guys getting back in transition. It’s got to be all five guys sprinting back in transition…and not only do we have to sprint back but we have to be smart in how we get back.”—Bzdelik
In other words, to paraphrase Mr. Bzdelik, if you take away all the times N.C. State was outscoring Wake, Wake would have won the game. Uh, sure… Of course, that analysis does not take into account the fact that Wake opened the game with a 14-7 run, or that it opened the second half with a 17-8 run that knotted the score at 50-50 with 13 minutes left to play.
However, N.C. State, facing another wake-up call, went on the aforementioned 13-2 run to forge another 11-point gap. But wouldn’t you know, Wake would find another…run to cut the lead to five with six minutes left. However, State would find one more gear, pushing the lead to 14 with 3:47 left thanks to four points from C.J. Leslie and three straight midrange jumpers from Williams, each of whom finished with 18 points for the game.
[On Scott Wood] “Let’s just give him credit. I think we live in such a negative society, it’s like what you didn’t do. You know what, give people credit. There’s a lot to be positive about, and that’s the way I am. I’m not a negative person, and I look at the glass as half-full. We’ve got some good young players gaining invaluable experience, we’ve a heck of a recruiting class coming in, and so we move forward. Any other questions?”—Bzdelik
Let’s set aside the fact that in this verse, Bzdelik essentially concedes the rest of this season and reveals that he’s already thinking about the next (assuming he’ll be around Winston-Salem to see it). Let’s instead focus on the positive. After a couple of early misses, Wood caught fire, finishing with a game-high 23 points, including six three-pointers and another free throw that extends his consecutive made FT streak to 64, the fifth longest in NCAA history.
“Scott was pretty good in just about every area,” said N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried. “He defended pretty well—he gave up a couple of looks. But I thought offensively it’s nice to see him get into that groove where everybody in the gym thinks every shot he shoots is going in.”
Also getting his groove back was Lorenzo Brown, who finished with 15 points, eight assists and only two turnovers. Brown paced the Pack attack throughout, atoning for several recent subpar efforts. This was the first time Brown has scored in double-figures since the last Wake Forest game.
“Lorenzo was down the last couple of days even though we won at Boston College,” continued Gottfried. “He’s hard on himself. He wants to play at such a high level, and in the last two games—the Virginia game and the BC game—those were slow, slugfest type games and he didn’t really get out and run. So, he walks away from them thinking maybe I’m not playing well. I was happy for him today because he pushed the tempo [and ] he got out on the break.”
All five Wolfpack starters—Leslie, Williams, Leslie, Brown and Richard Howell—finished with double-digit points. Howell actually had 11 points and 11 rebounds, his ACC-leading ninth double-double this season. Of course, all five starters also played over 30 minutes each.
N.C. State hits the road for games at Georgia Tech and Duke before returning to the RBC Center in two weeks for its only match this season against league-leading Florida State. Until then, I leave with you with the true tour de force of this evening, the closing flourish from Maestro Bzdelik:
“You know what, there’s an old saying in the NBA: you give respect by showing no respect…you give respect by showing no respect. And you all can figure out what that phrase really means. Last time we played N.C. State we did not respect them because we didn’t play hard and we didn’t compete. That’s a heck of a statement for a coach to make, but that’s the truth. I remember Michael Jordan saying one time that he’s had some rookies play him where they didn’t want to touch him, they feared him and didn’t guard him. And Michael said, ‘You’re not even respecting me because you won’t compete against me, you see.’ But if you get somebody out there who’s just battling and giving everything you’ve got and still you come up short, you know what? Doesn’t your opponent respect you? So you give respect by showing no respect…you go out there and you battle.”—Bzdelik