In its first game of the season, the NC State men’s basketball team lost 82-81 in overtime to Georgia Tech in a thrilling opening-night ACC showdown at PNC Arena Tuesday night.
Despite leading by as much as 15 points in the first half, the Wolfpack (0-1, 0-1 ACC) couldn’t sustain consistent offense in the second half and slowly saw the Yellow Jackets (1-0, 1-0 ACC) chip away at its lead.
In a near-carbon copy of last year’s home loss to Georgia Tech, Yellow Jackets forward James Banks III hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to win the game.
“Very disappointed to lose a game like that,” said NC State head coach Kevin Keatts. “I think our guys played really hard.”
Playing without senior guard Markell Johnson (injury) and redshirt junior forward DJ Funderburk (suspension), NC State struggled most in the two areas Johnson and Funderburk excel: creative offense in the halfcourt and playing defense on the low block, respectively.
“[We were missing] two very big parts of our team,” said redshirt senior guard CJ Bryce. “A little shorthanded tonight, but I’m looking forward to getting those guys [back], and I’m sure we’ll have them very soon.”
The defensive effort of the Wolfpack was evident from the get-go, as the Pack forced a shot-clock violation and redshirt freshman forward Manny Bates energized the crowd with two quick blocks. The defensive pressure helped the Wolfpack jump out to an 8-0 lead to start the game, with 3-pointers from graduate transfer forward Pat Andree and junior guard Braxton Beverly and a highlight alley-oop dunk by Bates.
Andree electrified the crowd in his first game in PNC Arena, hitting three 3-pointers in the first half and scoring all 12 of his points in the first 10 minutes of the game.
With just under four minutes to go in the first half, Bryce hit a turnaround jumper at the elbow, giving the Wolfpack a 39-24 lead at the under-four minute media timeout of the first half, its largest lead of the half.
“Definitely feel like we had them in the first half,” Bryce said. “We were maybe a little fatigued in the second, but … no excuses, we’ve got to pay attention to the details.”
But the Wolfpack got sloppy in the final four minutes of the half, as a number of fouls and poor transition defense gave Georgia Tech a chance to get back into the game, and the Yellow Jackets seized it.
Five made free throws from Georgia Tech and two towering dunks by Banks got the Yellow Jackets back into the game. NC State's only points in the final four minutes were off two free throws from redshirt junior guard Devon Daniels and one free throw by freshman guard A.J. Taylor, his first career point as a member of the Wolfpack.
The Yellow Jackets closed out the half on an 11-3 run, and NC State took a much slimmer 42-35 lead into halftime after leading by double digits for the majority of the first 20 minutes.
Georgia Tech’s momentum carried over into the second half, as the Yellow Jackets quickly cut the Pack’s lead to just three points before a Daniels layup pushed the lead back to two possessions.
NC State struggled mightily in the second half with Georgia Tech’s length down low. Banks and fellow Yellow Jackets forward Moses Wright were nearly impenetrable on the low block, as the Yellow Jackets rejected seven Wolfpack shots in the first eight minutes, and the NC State offense wasn’t able to adjust.
Again the lead would not last, as four straight points from Wright tied the game. The next possession, though, Wright was called for an over-the-back, and the forward picked up his fifth and final foul, sending him to the bench for the rest of the game.
As both teams struggled in the half court, Bryce did his best to put the team on his back. The 6-foot-5 guard scored 10 straight points for the Pack, consistently nailing tough shots to keep the score level as the rest of the offense went stagnant.
“I thought CJ Bryce made some great plays down the stretch,” Keatts said.
Bryce finished the game with 24 points and 11 rebounds on 11-for-17 shooting, but also struggled with ball-handling down low, committing seven turnovers.
After the two teams traded buckets for much of the remainder of the half, an empty possession for Georgia Tech gave the Wolfpack the ball with 38 seconds left in the game to try and take the lead. Keatts called a timeout to settle his team down and draw up a play for the offense to run for the upcoming possession.
Beverly missed a layup with around 10 seconds remaining, and after a loose ball resulted in a jump ball awarded to Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets’ potential game-winning shot fell harmlessly to the court, and the two teams were headed to overtime.
The Yellow Jackets opened up overtime with a corner 3 from Asanti Price to take their first lead of the game. The two teams went blow-for-blow with each other for the next four minutes, and two CJ Bryce free throws gave the Wolfpack an 81-80 lead with 35 seconds remaining.
Georgia Tech again missed its potential game-winning shot, but Daniels pulled down the rebound and dribbled up court, trying to drain the clock before throwing an ill-advised pass to Bates, who couldn’t corral it. The Yellow Jackets scooped up the loose ball, and a missed 3-pointer saw the ball bounce into the arms of Banks, who was fouled on a put-back attempt with 2.1 seconds left.
“If we could have one or two plays back, it would have probably been a different outcome,” Keatts said. “Give Georgia Tech credit; they finished the game, and we didn’t.”
Banks hit both his free throws, and Beverly’s half-court prayer clanged off the backboard and to the floor for NC State’s first season-opening loss since 2015.
“It was a little different from [last year’s loss to Georgia Tech],” Keatts said. “It was weird, because the ball bounced … and ended up in Banks’ hands. Unfortunately, we fouled. I was hoping that he would miss both, but he stepped up and made both.”
Sophomore forward Jericole Hellems finished with 15 points, Daniels and Andree both scored 12 points on the night, and Beverly chipped in 11 to round out the double-digit scorers. Despite shooting just 1 for 8 from the field, Bates held his own down low against Banks, rejecting five shots and grabbing seven rebounds.
NC State will be back in action Sunday, Nov. 10 at PNC Arena at 4 p.m., as the Wolfpack will start its nonconference schedule against Detroit Mercy.