RBC CENTER / RALEIGH — The best thing that can be said about N.C. State’s 86-75 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is that, judging by the morose reaction of players and coaches, the Wolfpack has in a very short time grown beyond moral victories. Joined by a smattering of Hoosier faithful — including the father and mother of Indiana forward Cody Zeller, brother of Tyler, proud parents who arrived clad in matching half-Indiana red, half-Tarheel blue T-shirts — a boisterous crowd of 16,597 took in a Game in Three Acts.

The opening six minutes were dominated by the Hoosiers, who jumped out to an initial lead that would grow to 25-14 by the 14:19 mark. The Wolfpack appeared bamboozled by Indiana’s fast-paced but disciplined offense, which was torching the interior of N.C. State’s man-to-man defense. Once head coach Mark Gottfried switched to a 2-3 zone, however, the Wolfpack settled down and began to slowly whittle away at the Indiana lead. Spurred by 13 first-half points from Scott Wood and a nine-point, six-rebound effort off the bench by C.J. Leslie, N.C. State would knot the game at 32 with 5:58 left in first half. After Indiana surged ahead by seven, the Wolfpack again chipped away. Leslie’s buzzer-beating putback gave N.C. State its first lead of the night, 42-41, going into intermission.

Indiana would retake the lead at the outset of the second half, but N.C. State would soon find its rhythm. Hoosiers’ head coach Tom Crean extended his perimeter defense in the second stanza with the obvious intent to quiet Wood’s threat. That strategy would limit Wood to only three second-half points. However, it also initially opened space for Lorenzo Brown to repeatedly dribble penetrate. The Pack point guard scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, also contributing six rebounds and five assists. Wood’s lone second-half 3-pointer plus a layup by Alex Johnson gave N.C. State a seven-point lead at 63-56 with nearly eight minutes remaining.

Despite a full-throated home crowd, however, the wheels would come off for the Wolfpack. Backed by Jordan Hulls’ game-high 20 points and 13 second-half points from Zeller, the Hoosiers outscored N.C. State 30-12 from the 7:48 mark forward. The coup de grace came with just over three minutes left. With the Wolfpack trailing by only three, back-to-back miscues by Leslie coupled with back-to-back fouls by Wood and DeShawn Painter allowed Indiana to toe the stripe and push their lead to six. Wood’s foul, committed against Victor Oladipo during a breakaway, was whistled a flagrant foul, a particularly dubious call that sent Gottfried’s ever-pliable suit jacket flying and Pack fans into hysterics in both the arena and cyberspace.

N.C. State would again cut the lead to a single point with two minutes remaining, but an ensuing sequence comprising a made 3-pointer by Hulls, a missed three by Wood and Wood fouling out would seal the Wolfpack’s fate. In the end, Indiana notched the last 10 points of the game and recaptured that initial 11 point lead, a gut-punch for Pack players and partisans alike.

“We certainly had a lot of chances, there’s no question,” sighed Gottfried. “Our guys played very hard, and I liked how we competed. But, we had a stretch from about the 6:30 mark to the 3:00 mark where we had a lot of opportunities and couldn’t capitalize…During that stretch the game swung.”

Despite outscoring Indiana in the paint and off the bench, N.C. State was beaten in fast break points 20-16. Leslie finished the contest with a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three blocks. However, he also turned the ball over a game-high five times.

Part one of the post-Lowe era for N.C. State (5-2) is proving the perseverance to comeback from formidable deficits, an ability the Wolfpack displayed in their win over Texas and tonight against Indiana (7-0). The next step, however, is showing the mettle to finish close games against capable opponents like the Hoosiers.

“Hopefully, even though [our fans] are disappointed in the loss, they see a team that’s going to compete hard…which we did tonight,” Gottfried observed. “We just have to get better and make sure we learn how to finish games.”

N.C. State next takes the court this Sunday at Stanford before returning to Raleigh to face North Carolina Central on Sunday, Dec. 11 in Reynolds Coliseum. The Wolfpack return to the RBC Center on Saturday, Dec. 17 to face the highly ranked — and embattled — Syracuse Orange.