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N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts and guard D.J. Horne both were on their best behavior Saturday in the game against Virginia Tech.
No technical fouls, no ejections, no inappropriate gestures. Keatts did wander out on the playing floor at one point, but to shout encouragement to his team during the second half.
The Pack needed that encouragement. The game against Virginia Tech was a struggle from the start and the Hokies, the tougher team this day, came away with an 84-78 victory.
It was a bad loss for the Pack (13-5, 5-2 ACC) and a good win for the Hokies (11-7, 3-4), who have won their last three games at PNC Arena. Virginia Tech had lost four of their last five games and 0-4 in true road games this season, but again enjoyed their visit to Raleigh.
A bit of good news for the Wolfpack: it did make some 3-pointers. After beating Wake Forest without a made 3, the Pack’s Casey Morsell ended the 3-point drought late in the first half and Horne made two from the right wing to begin the second.
When Horne fired in a 3 with seven minutes left, the Pack had a 47-44 lead and Keatts was shouting and clapping.
But little was smooth for the Pack this day. The Hokies’ defense was effective and the Pack’s shot selection not always so good against it. It was costly.
Junior guard Sean Pedulla, the Hokies’ leading scorer this season, shook off a mediocre first half to make some big baskets down the stretch. In the final seven minutes of the game, he had a 3-pointer and twice drove down the lane for baskets as the Hokies built a 70-58 lead.
The Pack got within 75-69 in the final two minutes but the Hokies’ Robbie Beran, fouled with State pressing, hot two free throws with 1:23 left. Beran later broke free for a layup against the press, then added two more foul shots.
Morsell had 19 points and Horne 16 for the Pack. D.J. Burns, doubled teamed inside, finished with eight points.
The Hokies had five players in double figures led by Hunter Cattoor’s 19 points. Pedulla had 13 points, eight assists and eight of the Hokies’ 20 turnovers.
Three takeaways from the game:
Can anyone make a 3?
What’s up with the Pack’s 3-point shooting? Mainly, not many shots going down.
After its 0-8 showing from 3 in the win over Wake Forest, the Wolfpack missed their first five 3’s Saturday and not many were close to going in.
Morsell finally knocked down a 3 from the right corner with 3:47 left in the first half, earning a loud – and relieved – cheer from Wolfpack fans.
Consider that the Pack was 2-20 on 3-pointers in losing to North Carolina, then 10-for-20 in beating Louisville. Then 0-8 against Wake.
Horne missed all four of his 3’s in the first half Saturday and six of eight shots overall. He did his first two shots of the second half – both 3’s from the right wing. The Pack closed 6-of-19 on 3’s.
Hokies were defensive
A big part of the Virginia Tech game plan had to be disrupting the Pack’s halfcourt offense and the Hokies often did that with active, aggressive defense.
The Hokies bodied up a lot and the referees allowed considerable contact. Just four personal fouls were called on Virginia Tech in the opening half although the Pack often went inside to challenge the Hokies, who squared up well and boxed out on the boards.
One downside for Tech: Hokies coach Mike Young wanted to hold down his team’s turnover total after 17 in the loss to Virginia. The Hokies had 12 turnovers in the first half Saturday that the Pack converted into 10 points.
Both teams committed a host of bad turnovers – ill-advised passes, traveling, 30-second shot-clock violations, you name it.
Pedulla the defensive target
To beat Virginia Tech, the Pack had to make sure Sean Pedulla didn’t go off. The 6-1 junior had 33 points against Clemson and 32 against Miami this season. When he’s hot, he’s very hot.
The Pack turned that defensive assignment over to Taylor and also had Michael O’Connell or Horne go man-to-man with him. Pedulla had a quiet first half – four points on 1-4 shooting.
Pedulla was better in the second half and his 3-pointer with seven minutes left in the second half pushed the Hokies in front 56-54. His driving basket gave Virginia Tech a 62-56 lead with 5:27 left.