Caulton Tudor • staff columnist
While many Triangle fans will spend most of this week immersed in the build up for the first UNC vs. Duke game of the basketball season, N.C. State is in more of a must-win situation.
At Georgia Tech on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPNU), the Wolfpack (17-7, 6-3 ACC) almost has to avenge a Jan. 11 82-71 loss to the Yellow Jackets (9-14, 2-7) in the RBC Center.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried on Monday didn’t even attempt to deny that landing an NCAA Tournament is on the minds of his players and the coaching staff. Two losses to Georgia Tech could be an NCAA resume buster. After the trip to Atlanta, the Pack will not play again until Feb. 16 at Duke, followed two days later by a visit from Florida State.
“You always (think about the NCAA),” the first-year Pack coach said. “Anyone tells you they don’t, they’re lying. But it can’t be our emphasis every day. There has to be emphasis on next opponent and how are we going to play in this one game.”
In the January game against the Yellow Jackets, State lost because of major failures to execute in four areas:
•A slow start left the team down 40-29 at halftime.
•Spotty perimeter defense opened the door for Glen Rice, Jr. to score 22 points in 34 minutes.
•State missed 14 of its 19 shots behind the 3-point arc.
•C.J. Leslie fouled out while Scott Wood and Rich Howell were called for four personals each.
“Georgia Tech obviously came into Raleigh and beat us, so we have our hands full,” Gottfried said. “I do think we’ve improved _ improved in a lot of areas. Hopefully, we’ll play better.”
Gottfried gave sophomore playmaker Lorenzo Brown much of the credit for leading Saturday’s 87-76 win over Wake Forest. Brown finished with 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds.
“Zo’s play was very encouraging,” Gottfried said. “He had a bounce in his step, which is what our team needed.”