RALEIGH — As NC State coach Kevin Keatts left the room after yet another losing postgame press conference, he could be heard muttering to himself as he walked down the hallway toward his team’s locker room.
“It’s tough, man,” he said. “It’s tough.”
It’s tough enough for his Wolfpack to win games under any circumstances these days given the attrition that has left it with only eight healthy scholarship players. The task, however, becomes exponentially more difficult when State isn’t making baskets — especially against a team with size inside.
Those two elements were in play against Boston College on Wednesday. And the result was predictable.
The Wolfpack turned the ball over 18 times and scored only five points during a key 7½-minute stretch of the second half. That and their inability to defend the Eagles’ low post tandem of Quinten Post and James Karnik proved too much to overcome in a 69-61 loss at PNC Arena.
“It’s going to be hard to beat anybody when you turn the ball over 18 times,” said Keatts, whose team has lost seven of its last eight to fall to 11-17 overall and 4-13 in the ACC. “When I go back and look at the stat sheet, we gave up 21 points off of turnovers and then they had 12 fast break points. That’s 32 points we didn’t get a chance to defend in an eight-point game.”
There were times in which State didn’t fare much better in situations when it did have a chance to defend. That’s because it had no answers for keeping BC’s bigs away from the rim.
Post, a 7-foot, 240-pound transfer from Mississippi State wearing a clear mask to protect a facial injury, finished with 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Karnik, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound Lehigh transfer, added 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
They presented a particularly difficult matchup for the height-impaired Wolfpack when they were in the lineup — as they were during the Eagles’ two major spurts early in both halves.
“We have a problem guarding one post, let alone two,” Keatts said. “Our guys are fighting their (behinds) off, but I thought their size hurt us. It was better for us when they went with (6-foot-5 DeMarr) Langford at the four than anything else.”
It also helped, at least for a while, when Keatts switched to a zone defense. It was a change that helped State cut an 11-point first-half deficit down to just 33-31 at halftime.
The Wolfpack carried the momentum into the second half, taking its first lead of the night on a Casey Morsell 3-pointer at the 19:11 mark. State maintained the advantage for the next four minutes, but as it has done so many times this season, it allowed the game to slip away with one poorly timed drought.
This time it was a 20-5 run by BC (11-16, 6-11), fueled by five of those 18 turnovers.
“Live ball turnovers just don’t help you,” said Terquavion Smith. “I feel like most of our turnovers were careless. We were loose with the ball. It wasn’t really anything they were doing pressure-wise.”
Smith, who missed a majority of the first half after picking up two early fouls, carried State in the second half on the way to a game-high 21 points. His four 3-pointers gave him 82 for the season, the most ever by a Wolfpack freshman.
Smith, however, got little help offensively.
Although Dereon Seabron finished with 20 points, all but three of them came before halftime. He was 1-for-6 from the floor with three turnovers over the final 20 minutes.
No other State player scored in double figures, normally an ominous sign.
To make matters worse, the Wolfpack lost yet another player to an injury. Senior guard Thomas Allen left the game in the first half with a foot issue that is likely to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.
As frustrating as the situation continued to get, especially coming off a win at Georgia Tech that was by far State’s best all-around effort of the year, Keatts said the only thing he and his players can do is continue to soldier on.
“Our message will be the same as if we were winning. We’re just going to keep fighting, keep playing hard,” Keatts said. “We talked going into this game that we have four games left in the regular season and then in the tournament, anything can happen.
“We wanted to build some great momentum trying to go into the tournament because the tournament can be magical. I thought we had a great game against Georgia Tech because we played on both ends, and then tonight I thought we did some good things. But we turned the ball over.”