RALEIGH – N.C. State quickly showed Pittsburgh that there’s a big difference between playing against the ACC and playing in the ACC.
The Panthers are up for the challenge.
A quick spurt to start the game was all the resistance the Wolfpack showed before being gracious hosts in Pittsburgh’s first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference game Saturday.
N.C. State’s lead shrank, disappeared altogether and finally turned into a double-digit deficit before finalizing at 74-62 inside PNC Arena.
“We came out at halftime and had very little energy,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Our young guys had better learn, at this level, that if you do that, you’re going to see the results like you saw (Saturday). It’s real simple to me. We have to be a lot tougher than we were (Saturday).”
Gottfried said the Wolfpack looked different in the second half Saturday afternoon.
There was little cheering and minimal support from his players. As a result, N.C. State lost its ACC opener for the first time during Gottfried’s tenure and lost to Pittsburgh for only the second time in school history.
“They were tougher than our team was. Period,” Gottfried said. “They defended us tougher than we defended them. They got after loose balls. They pushed the ball on the break. And we did not respond.”
N.C. State (10-4, 0-1 ACC) scored 15 of the first 17 points in the first six minutes before Pittsburgh slowly began to chip away at the lead.
Down by eight at halftime, Pittsburgh completely erased the deficit in the next four minutes – taking the lead on the only exchange of the game.
The Panthers (13-1, 1-0), who hadn’t lost to an ACC opponent in 15 years, scored on 12 straight possessions to open the second half after a turnover on their first possession.
“We’ve got to look our own selves in the mirror,” forward Ralston Moore said. “We can’t really point fingers. It’s really our fault. There’s nobody to blame. We just have to be better.”
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, who has been at the school for 15 years, hasn’t lost to an ACC opponent, winning his 12th straight Saturday.
In its first ACC game as a member of the league, Dixon’s team lived up to its reputation, and N.C. State lost another lead.
Pittsburgh simply was tougher – physically and mentally – than N.C. State. The Panthers dove for loose balls while the Wolfpack stood watching.
Pittsburgh won races down court with N.C. State trailing behind.
And the Panthers took a physical approach with Wolfpack forward T.J. Warren in the second half. Warren scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first half.
“When we come out strong, like we did in the beginning, we just have to keep it up through the whole game and not let it creep back up on us,” said Warren, who leads the ACC and is sixth in the country in scoring.
Once Pittsburgh’s second-half run slowed, N.C. State found itself behind by 10.
The Wolfpack trimmed the lead to six points after a pair of Warren free throws with 6:40 to play but shot 4-for-9 the rest of the game, which included two last-minute baskets down by 16 points.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh showed no ill effects playing its first road game of the year and converted easily on the other end, hitting four lay-ups and three free throws during that stretch.
“It all starts on the defensive end, trying to get stops and make it complicated for them,” Warren said.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org