In its first game in two weeks, the NC State men’s basketball team fell on the road to the Saint Louis Billikens 80-69 for its first loss of the season.
After having its four previously scheduled games called off, the Wolfpack (3-1) came in shorthanded with just an eight-man rotation as redshirt senior forward D.J. Funderburk and freshman guard Cam Hayes did not make the trip. This was certainly not an easy game to jump right back into as the Billikens (6-0) came into the game at No. 27 in the AP Poll and had played three games themselves since the Pack’s last game.
“This loss will help us get better,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “I don’t take moral victories, but there are a lot of good things that I’m going to be able to take out of this game.”
Despite missing a couple of key players, NC State was able to hang around with the Billikens for the majority of the game. The Pack took its first lead less than four minutes into the game and led by as many as 10 in the first half before going into halftime with a 35-29 lead. Most of the first-half points came via redshirt senior guard Devon Daniels and redshirt sophomore forward Manny Bates, who each had 10 points. Bates also made his presence felt on the defensive end as he had six blocks in the first half alone.
NC State continued to play well in the second half as it held the lead for the first 11-plus minutes of the half. After a scoreless first half, senior guard Braxton Beverly came alive in the second, scoring all 13 of his points within the first 11 minutes of the half.
“I was disappointed in myself after the first half,” Beverly said. “I did tell everybody at half that I owed them, I would try and make up for it and be more of the player that I am.”
Bates also continued to play well in the second, scoring another 10 points and collecting two blocks to finish with a career-high 20 points and career-high eight blocks.
However, the long layoff between games and being shorthanded caught up to the Pack down the stretch of the game, as it saw Saint Louis take its first lead with just over eight minutes to go and outscore the Pack 23-13 after that to win 80-69.
One of the good things that Keatts will take away from the game is the play of Bates, who stepped up with the absence of Funderburk. The Fayetteville native finished shooting a solid eight for 15 from the field and went four of six from the free-throw line. His performance against Saint Louis is evidence that Bates’ offensive game is starting to become more polished and effective.
“I’m never a really big stat guy,” Bates said. “I’m just looking to win, and if that doesn’t mean me having 20 points and 10 blocks, or 30 points, it doesn’t matter. I just want to win, that’s all that matters to me.”
While Bates’ career performance and the team’s ability to hang around with a good team are reasons to remain positive, one obvious issue that stands out is the fact that the Pack got outrebounded 53-26. Still, it’s encouraging to see the Wolfpack stick with a great team while missing key pieces.
NC State will return to action on Saturday, Dec. 19 as it hosts Campbell in PNC Arena at 4 p.m. Follow @TechSports on Twitter for live updates.