The NC State men’s basketball team found itself down by 20 points to No. 16 Memphis a couple of minutes into the second half, and brought it almost all the way back before falling 83-78 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on Thanksgiving afternoon.
The Pack came out of the gate strong, taking a 15-9 lead at the 15-minute mark in the first half. The first 12 points all came in the paint, running the offense through redshirt freshman forward Manny Bates and sophomore forward Jericole Hellems to collect two buckets each early. Redshirt junior forward D.J. Funderburk had five big points as well, including a 3-pointer.
In just a two-minute stretch, Memphis scored 12 unanswered points to go up by six. The game stayed close for most of the first half, and with the Tigers up 33-30 with 13 minutes left, it looked like it could be a close game to the end, but NC State failed to keep up for the full 40. Memphis went on 22-9 run to enter the break with a 55-39 lead.
There was a positive sign for senior guard Markell Johnson, scoring 13 first-half points on 5-of-7 shooting. One thing that hurt the Pack in the first half was the 3-point arc. It was 3-for-8 from deep, but Memphis was much better, making 6 of 7.
The Pack never looked to get into an offensive rhythm, failing on numerous occasions to finish at the rim despite beating the Tigers to the paint. On the other end, Memphis’ young core tore the Wolfpack defense apart, and the Pack looked unlikely to make it a game.
In the second half, Memphis turned the ball over 12 times, compared to just three turnovers in the first half, and only shot 2 for 5 from 3, allowing the Pack back into the game. The lead grew to 20, at 61-41, before the comeback started with two buckets each by Hellems and Johnson to get it within 11.
All of a sudden, an 8-0 run via a 3-pointer from Hellems, a layup by redshirt junior guard Devon Daniels and a three-point play for Funderburk made it 67-60. A big 3-point shot from junior guard Braxton Beverly and two more points on free throws made it a five-point game at 74-69.
Despite the game getting back to three points on several occasions in the final minutes, it just couldn’t get over the hump to tie the game. At 75-72, Beverly missed a 3-pointer and it led to two Memphis jumpers, but the Pack brought it back to 79-76 with a minute left. Again, it was the Tigers that made the big shot, an and-1 jumper on a foul from Johnson that made it 82-76.
NC State relied on three big scorers, as Jonhson, Hellems and Funderburk were the only players with more than seven points. Johnson led both teams with 22 points and added six assists, five rebounds and three steals. Hellems had 17, and Funderburk had 14. Redshirt senior guard C.J. Bryce struggled from the floor, starting 1-for-9 and ending with seven points on 2-of-12 shooting.
Most importantly, NC State missed a huge opportunity to add a ranked win to its resume before the year turns over. Next up, the Pack will return home for a grudge match against Wisconsin on Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 9:15 p.m. for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.