Four days after finishing the Vegas Showdown with a disappointing loss to BYU, N.C. State responded by dropping its second consecutive game.
The Wolfpack trailed early and never found its footing in a 72-52 blowout loss to Mississippi on the road Tuesday night. N.C. State will be back on the road for Saturday’s conference opener against Boston College as the Wolfpack looks to return to the win column.
“The obvious thing is we didn’t play well offensively,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I didn’t think we shared the ball like we normally had done, and the ball kind of stuck. Didn’t really get any good, clean looks, and I thought we forced some things. That’s some of the things that you’re going to get when you get so many new guys and trying to figure out how to play together.”
N.C. State started off cold and ended up digging itself into a double-digit deficit in the first half. Jayden Taylor put the Wolfpack on the board with a 3-pointer, but the Wolfpack would miss its next five shots from the field and seven of eight. Ole Miss took advantage and jumped out to a 17-5 lead.
Clemson transfer Ben Middlebrooks came off the bench and gave N.C. State a much-needed boost midway through the first half. In less than three minutes, Middlebrooks scored 10 points to whittle the deficit down to five. The junior scored more points in that span than he had in a single game all season.
“Guys were driving, and I was just trying to find spots in the lane,” Middlebrooks said. “Credit to the guards. They were able to find me, and I was able to finish a couple of them.”
Middlebrooks ended the night with his first double-double in a Wolfpack uniform by recording a team-high 13 points and 12 rebounds. The Wolfpack will be hoping that Middlebrooks has found his rhythm on his new team.
“It’s a process, but I definitely do feel like as I figure out different guys’ tendencies and different skillsets, it definitely is getting more comfortable and I’m kind of able to find my spots better,” Middlebrooks said.
On an otherwise difficult night for the Wolfpack, Middlebrooks gave his team a spark.
“I think Ben is one of those kids who are, the more he plays, the more he practices, the more he’ll feel comfortable,” Keatts said. “He was really the bright spot for us. Rebounding, finishing around the rim. He did some good things.”
N.C. State trailed 35-27 at halftime, and it didn’t find a way to turn things around in the second half. The Wolfpack lost the turnover battle 13-7 and finished the night shooting 3 for 25 from behind the arc.
“We took so many tough shots,” Keatts said. “...We worked on driving and kicking. They do a good job of selling out, they protect the paint. And I didn’t think we made the one more pass.”
Keatts made it a point to note that, with the number of transfers N.C. State brought in, the Wolfpack is still figuring out how to play together. But Middlebrooks’ breakout game is a good sign on that end.
“We’ve got to figure out how to play together,” Keatts said. “That’s what it is. It’s early in the season. I don’t like it at all. I don’t completely accept that myself. But we’ve got to figure out how to get better.”