BAYAMON, Puerto Rico — The confidence that had become N.C. State's trademark was missing Sunday night in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The dominant performances by junior stars C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, those were gone, too.
All that was left for the sixth-ranked Wolfpack was a humbling 76-56 loss to hungry, aggressive Oklahoma State team.
Instead of joy ride back to Raleigh on Sunday night, with a tournament championship in hand, the Wolfpack (3-1) took a long charter flight with plenty of time to ponder what went wrong against the Cowboys.
Leslie fouled out less than 3 minutes in the second half, with just two points, but the damage was done long before that. Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (20 points) scored 18 points in the first half, most at the expense of Brown.
Smart, a freshman, played with confidence and a killer attitude to help the Cowboys build a 38-28 halftime lead. In short, Smart did everything N.C. State couldn't or wasn't willing to do.
The vacant stares that marked the lost season at the end of Sidney Lowe's tenure returned after a listless first half by the N.C. State veterans who lived through that misery.
If not for freshmen T.J. Warren (15 points) and Rodney Purivs (16 points), the final margin would have been even worse.
The scoring balance and defensive intensity from the first three games of the season was a cruel joke on Sunday night. With Leslie in foul trouble and Brown struggling to handle the ball and Smart, N.C. State's supporting cast couldn't keep the Wolfpack in the game.
Leslie had two of his shots blocked in the first half and picked up three fouls. When he checked into the game after the second half started, he picked up a quick, fourth foul. When Leslie protested the call to referee Kipp Kissinger, he got a technical foul. Leslie went to the bench with 17:06 left with two points.
Oklahoma State made all four of its free throws from the two fouls to take a 46-31 lead after the sequence. N.C. State got as close as 11, after back-to-back baskets by Warren, but Le'Bryan Nash (23 points) picked up where Smart left off in the first half and the Cowboys cruised to a relatively easy win.
Brown finished the game with six points and seven turnovers. Scott Wood was 1 of 11 from the floor and Richard Howell fouled out with only six points.