First Half Lapse Spells Doom for Wolfpack in Brooklyn

Brett Friedlander

Kevin Keatts said he didn't recognize his NC State basketball team for a stretch late in the first half of Thursday's game against Memphis.

It was a disastrous 12-point run that helped the 16th-ranked Tigers open up a double-digit lead on the Wolfpack. 

The team with which Keatts is more familiar showed back up in the second half and outplayed Memphis for the final 20 minutes. But by that time it was too late to avoid an 83-78 loss at Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. 

The Wolfpack cut a 20-point deficit down to just three in the closing minutes, but couldn't finish the comeback in losing for the second time in as many games against major competition this season.

State (5-2, 0-1 ACC) was done in by a first half in which it allowed Memphis to shoot 63.3 percent from the floor, forced only three turnovers and was outscored 55-39. Memphis also rebounded the Wolfpack 39-26 for the game and made eight of its 12 3-point attempts for a 66.7 percentage that was the best ever by an State opponent.

On the plus side, senior point guard Markell Johnson continued his recent resurgence by scoring a game-high 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting. He also led the team with six assists, three steals and five rebounds.

Sophomore forward added a career-high 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting while D.J. Funderburk was also in double figures with 14 points off the bench.

Here is what the Wolfpack coach said about the game, the outcome and what it all means during his postgame press conference at Barclay's Center ...

"I thought we played a very good second half. I told the team at halftime if they would come out and fight there'd be a different outcome. Unfortunately we came up a little short, but I thought our guys showed a lot of resilience. I thought we fought. I thought we got after it. I'm proud of our effort."

"I thought we dug ourselves in such a big hole. We started the game well and didn't finish the half well. Certainly give (Memphis) a lot of credit. They're very good. They've got a lot of guys on their team that understand their role. I know they're young, but they obviously play to their role. They did a tremenedous job."

"I thought they beat us on the glass and got out in transition. When you look at that, I thought it was the difference in the game."

Keatts was asked what was different about his team in the second half, when it outscored Memphis 39-28 ...

"That's who we are. As every coach learns early in the season, and we're in our seventh game, you try to learn each team. One thing I've learned about these guys is that certainly, we have no quit."

"I didn't like our team in the first half. It didn't look like my team. That being said, I thought a halftime we made some adjustments. But the biggest adjustment was we competed harder."

"We did a great job on ball screen coverage. It hurt us when both Manny (Bates) and D.J. (Funderburk) had to go out of the game. I thought out ball screen coveraged suffered a little bit."

Keatts explained why he thought his team's comeback stalled late in the game after durring the Memphis lead to as little as three ...

"I just thought some things happened. They made a couple of plays late. I think about the and-one as they drove. Markell Johnson drives Precious (Achiuwa) ... actually it was a step-back three. If that goes in, it's a different story. We lost the ball a couple of times. But we had stopped them for so many consecutive trips, you knew eventually they were going to make some shots."

Keatts was asked if he thought the first half problems were the result of the Wolfpack's mistakes or Memphis' strong play ...

"I think it's a combination of both. We're not a team that typically gives up 55 points in the first half. I thought our defense struggled because we weren't scoring the ball the way we wanted to, even though we had 39 at half. And then I thought we just didn't make plays."

"We left a lot of things on the rim. I thought they beat us to a lot of 50-50 balls, which could have changed the game. We lost a couple of their shooters on scouting report. We wanted to take away the paint touches and we came off shooters. Their shooters made some shots and it extended their lead going into halftime."

Keatts said that while he was disappointed in the loss, he thought the second half was something the Wolfpack can build on moving forward to its next game against Wisconsin ...

"It's a loss. But we want to build off our second half. Certainly our second half was way better than our first. We've got to take that tape and get better in certain areas. They're areas I thought that we're really struggling in. We've got to do a better job of blocking out."

"It's a little different in the first half because I had a lot of combinations in there that hadn't played together, especially with our ball screen coverage. Once we had D.J. and Manny in there we had we had some guys that could be able to protect the rim."