CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – N.C. State still hasn’t shaken its tendency to follow a big effort with a losing one.
At least this time, the No. 19 Wolfpack could point to the loss of point guard Lorenzo Brown midway through the first half with an ankle injury as a key in their 58-55 loss at Virginia on Tuesday night.
“You take Joe Flacco out of the game Sunday and it’s going to be a different game,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said, comparing his floor leader to the Baltimore Ravens quarterback who will lead his team in the Super Bowl
Brown leads ACC players in assists by a wide margin.
“I think he’s the best point guard in the ACC,” Gottfried said. “Obviously, we are different without him. We have to overcome that, and if he doesn’t play on Saturday, we’ll have to do that for 40 minutes.
“It’s part of the game. I think it affects everything,” he said.
The Wolfpack could surely use his steadying influence. In a season when they already have beaten No. 5 Duke and just ended a 13-game losing streak against North Carolina, they also have lost close games at Maryland and Wake Forest – games the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference favorites shouldn’t be expected to lose.
The loss at John Paul Jones Arena came against a surging Virginia team. Joe Harris scored 22 points, seven during a game-ending 13-6 run, as Virginia won its fourth straight.
Akil Mitchell added 14 points for Virginia (15-5, 5-2 ACC), including an 18-foot jumper that put them ahead to stay.
N.C. State (16-5, 5-3), which averaged nearly 80 points per game, became the 17th team, including all seven ACC opponents, to be held fewer than 60 points by Virginia.
C.J. Leslie, playing despite being under the weather, led the Wolfpack with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Richard Howell had 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Leslie missed what would have been a tying free throw with 3:20 to go, and when Jontel Evans hit two from the line with 26 seconds to play, the lead was three.
Without Brown, the Wolfpack looked sloppy at times, especially down the stretch.
After Harris put Virginia ahead 52-49, Leslie hit two free throws. Harris’ drive made it 54-51 and Scott Wood’s 3-pointer with 4:20 to go tied it.
Mitchell’s jumper restored Virginia’s lead with 3:53 remaining, and a free throw by Leslie with 3:20 to go was all the Wolfpack could manage during the last four minutes of the game.
Trailing for the first 27 1⁄2 minutes, Virginia finally went ahead on Mike Tobey’s 15-foot jumper with 12:26 to play.
The game was tied at 40 and 42 before a dunk by Leslie, Wood’s 3-pointer and Howell’s drive more than negated Evan Nolte’s 3-pointer for Virginia, putting N.C. State ahead, 49-45.
But Virginia drew even again with the help of two turnovers as Harris hit two free throws and Tobey scored underneath. Harris drew a foul. He made them all, giving Virginia a 52-49 lead.