NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts talks with reporters about the Wolfpack's loss to Northern Iowa the day after defeating No. 2 Arizona. Luke DeCock ldecock@newsobserver.com
NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts talks with reporters about the Wolfpack's loss to Northern Iowa the day after defeating No. 2 Arizona. Luke DeCock ldecock@newsobserver.com

Luke DeCock

Names and faces change, but essential NC Stateness does not

By Luke DeCock

ldecock@newsobserver.com

November 23, 2017 06:18 PM

PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS

There may be a new coach and new players, but it’s still N.C. State.

Following up an upset of the No. 2 team in the country with a loss to a team that opened its season by losing by 17 at North Carolina is the kind of thing that N.C. State basketball teams have done since time immemorial.

Nothing, it seems, has changed in that regard. Good follows bad, and vice versa. The Wolfpack invariably delivers what you least expect.

A day after the Wolfpack’s stirring win over Arizona, everything was back to normal with a 64-60 loss to Northern Iowa. Fatigue was no excuse: The Panthers got even less rest than the Wolfpack. But the team that did just about everything right to beat Arizona was nowhere in evidence Thursday.

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The pace was certainly slower compared to Wednesday. N.C. State was sloppier with the basketball. It shot poorly, couldn’t get to the rim and took too many 3-pointers.

Most important, the Wolfpack couldn’t get defensive stops when it mattered, and it did against Arizona. The Panthers scored on their final four possessions. The night before, the Wolfpack shut the Wildcats down during a 13-1 run that clinched the game for N.C. State.

“The lesson is, obviously we’ve got to learn as a team, when things are not going well, especially when things are not going well at the offensive end, we’ve got to get stops,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “And I thought we did for the most part. They just scored a few more baskets than we did at the end.”

That had more to do with the loss than any existential state of N.C. Stateness, even if the overall circumstances are all too familiar.

North Carolina State forward Lavar Batts, Jr. (3) drives to the basket as Northern Iowa's Spencer Haldeman (30) and Juwan McCloud (13).
Tim Aylen AP

And that will be the battle this team fights all season long, against good opponents and bad. Keatts has predicated his tenure on aggressive defense and uptempo offense, and if the Wolfpack can’t do either, it’s going to struggle against anyone it plays. But it also showed this week that it can beat anyone, given the opportunity.

If there was a bright side to the loss for N.C. State, it’s the continued emergence of Omer Yurtseven, who is finally starting to look like the player everyone thought he would be last season as a freshman. He followed up a solid performance against Arizona with a career-high 17 points, 13 rebounds and a block against Northern Iowa, his second career double-double.

North Carolina State center Omer Yurtseven (14) shoots as Northern Iowa's Ted Friedman (3) and Spencer Haldeman, left, defend.
Tim Aylen AP

Yurtseven hit 3-pointers, scored on spin moves in the post and looked comfortable with the ball in his hands. His defense is still a work in progress, but his development is encouraging. There were times last season where he looked lost on the court. He looks at home now, even if the greater parts of his game remain untapped.

“It’s just confidence, to be honest,” Yurtseven. The more confidence I get, from the coach and the staff, the better I play.”

So N.C. State isn’t going to win the Battle 4 Atlantis, not that anyone ever expected that. It still has a chance to return home with two quality wins, if it beat Tennessee in the third-place game Friday.

It’s still the beginning of a very long basketball season, one where it appears N.C. State will still dazzle one night and confound the next. That hasn’t changed, even if so much else has.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock