Twenty-eight and 18 -- James Johnson accounted for a third of Wake's points and nearly half of their rebounds. He was a one-man wrecking crew that State had no answer for.
And yet, State was never out of this game until the final moments. It looked bleak at one point in the first half when Wake jumped out to a 15-point lead, but the Pack kept battling and cut the halftime margin to eight. Two quick buckets to start the second half cut the lead to four right out of the gate, and you knew from that point forward it was going to be a game the entire way home.
State did a tremendous job valuing the ball this game, committing only eight turnovers. There have been times this year when State hit the eight TO mark before the midway point of the first half. Excellent, excellent work from the Pack in that regard.
But when Sidney closes a door, the rest of the team opens a window, it seems. Turnovers in check, the Pack just could not gain any sort of traction in the rebounding or free throw rate arenas. The Deacs out-rebounded the Pack by 15 (42-27) and doubled the Pack's number of trips to the line, 22 to 11 (granted, a good number of Wake's attempts came at the end in the Pack's attempt to get back in the game).
Beyond Johnson's heroics for the Deacs, Ish Smith drove two daggers into State's bid for an upset late in the game. With just over six minutes to go and the Pack down by six, State looked like it was going to hold the Deacs to an empty possession before Smith drained a fall-away three at the end of the shot clock to push the lead back to nine. And with the Pack down only five with only a minute remaining, Smith drove the lane and dished an alley-oop dunk to Johnson. Two huge momentum-sustaining plays in the face of the Pack's relentless attack to get back in the game.
State was led by Tracy Smith's 18 and kept alive later in the game by Farnold Degand's drives to the bucket that netted him 12 points on the night, but there was little else to write home about from the rest of the squad. Fells, consumed with keeping Jeff Teague in check -- just 12 points tonight on 3 of 2 shooting -- could never get going on the offensive end of the floor, finishing with eight. Brandon Costner finished with 10, and Ben McCauley shot the ball well from the floor (6 of 9) but missed his only foul shot to finish with 12 points. A total of 30 points from the leadership core of the team isn't going to get it done against a top-15 team on their court.
In one sense, this was a winnable game, and it was there for the taking if the Pack could've rebounded better and converted some close looks at the basket. On the other hand, given where this team is at on its growth arc, there's not much shame to be had losing by seven to a team in their house that gave Duke everything they could handle in Cameron. Sidney played the percentages, banking on Wake faltering if Teague were once again (relatively) neutralized, but Wake -- Johnson and Smith, in particular -- responded this time around to the challenge. A tip of the hat to them.
Now the challenge becomes winning two winnable games at home with a 7-9, or even 8-8, conference record still possible.
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