RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH’We didn’t have five guys come onto the floor ready to play at the start of the game,” N.C. State men’s basketball head coach Sidney Lowe said Tuesday night, following his team’s first loss of the season in a frustrating 65-53 battle with Northwestern’s zone defense and Princeton-style offense. ‘Maybe two, two and a half, maybe three.”

Well, at least the Wolfpack have cheerleaders: Following a shot in the first half, a swooshing net snagged the inside of a room and held tight, forcing an equipment timeout and a gaggle of baffled officials staring and pointing at the tangled hoop. Neither they nor the players seemed eager to leap for the net, even as N.C. State fans jeered the officials with repeated chants: ‘You can’t jump,” they offered.

And so in front of a sparse home crowd of just 11,913 at the RBC Center, Kristen Bolinger, an N.C. State junior serving her third season on the cheerleading squad, stood on the shoulders of a male cheerleader, untangled the net, pointed her wolf paws into the air, smiled wide, jumped down and rushed back to the sidelines. Maybe she shouldn’t have, though, since her net salvage operation was the most exciting and able thing any member of the Wolfpackwho looks alternately complacent and confused Tuesdaydid during the first half. On a dunk by standout sophomore off of a Jeremy Nash inbounds, the Wildcats jumped to a 15-8 lead. Shurna lead Northwestern through the first half with 10 points, while Jeremy Nasha solidly built, 6-foot-3 senior from Chicagoadded two threes in two attempts.

That’s one more than N.C. State had during the first half, and as many as it had all game: N.C. State hopes for freshman guard Scott Wood to add a steady three-point shot to their arsenal this year, but Tuesday night, he missed on each of his six attempts, finishing his 32 minutes with no points and just one assist. Only Javier Gonzalez connected beyond the arch for the Wolfpack. Gonzalez hit two threes and scored 10 points.

As importantly, though, he added that hint of attitude that his teammates lacked for most of the night, whether by sprinting in from the perimeter to grab a high, risky rebound 10 minutes into the first half or by, three minutes later, hitting a jumper and then grabbing a steal on the next play. But that wasn’t enough to save the Wolfpack from the shooting woes that ruined N.C. State’s appearance in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge: The Pack shot just 33.9 percent over the course of the game. The numberand total scorewould have been much lower had it not been for the inside productivity of forward Tracy Smith. Working against Northwestern’s tight man-to-man offense during the first half, Smith backed into the lane off of spin moves for 10 of his 11 points. When the Wildcats later switched to their 1-3-1 zone defense, the Wolfpack struggled to recognize frequent mismatches versus Smith inside. They finally did, though, and Smith finished the game with a team-leading 23. He couldn’t do anything about his teammates’ missed opportunities from the floor.

Or, apparently, about that stuck net.

N.C. State travels to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisc., Saturday and returns to Raleigh Saturday, Dec. 12, for a game in Reynolds Coliseum against Georgia Southern.