NC State stumbles out of the gate in ACC basketball play, falling to Pittsburgh, 68-60

At times, it seemed as if the ACC game Friday between N.C. State and Pitt was a test of which had the better NCAA portal team.

If so, it was Pitt.

The Panthers also were the better team defensively, which was the difference in a 68-60 victory at PNC Arena.

The Pack (7-2, 0-1) struggled to find an offensive groove in the ACC opener. The Panthers (6-3, 1-0) could match the quickness of Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith, and Casey Morsell had a hard time getting open looks.

Smith had 15 points and DJ Burns Jr., working hard in the paint, 13 for the Wolfpack. But Joiner missed all 12 of his shots, including seven 3-pointers, and Morsell finished with 9 points.

Forward Jack Clark, a steady producer in the Pack’s first seven games, was 0-8 from the field, missing his seven 3-point shots.

Pitt ran a smoother, more patient offense. Jamarius Burton, the graduate transfer from Texas Tech, had 24 points, providing some big baskets down the stretch.

After shooting 29% in the opening half — 3-for-15 on 3-pointers — the Wolfpack fell behind by 11 points early in the second. Smith came to life with four quick points and Greg Gantt knocked down a 3, but the Panthers answered, as they often did.

The Pack’s aggressiveness on defense in the second half proved to be a liability when it picked up its seventh personal foul – and put Pitt in the bonus – with 12:14 left in the second half.

Smith also was too aggressive in jumping out on Nelly Cummings, a transfer from Colgate, Cummings hit a 3 with 10:30 left in the game and turned it into a 4-point play as Smith ran into him for a 54-42 lead.

The Pack, tightening up on defense and attacking the basket more, pulled within 56-50 on an inside basket by Dusan Mahorcic. But after a Pitt turnover, a wild pass in transition by Joiner became another Wolfpack turnover.

Nike Sibande hit a 3 for the Panthers, but LJ Thomas did the same for the Pack to keep it a 6-point game. Sibande, brought in from Colgate, added another 3 for a 65-56 lead with 3:37 remaining.

Burns gave the Wolfpack a lift in the first half, using his 275-pound bulk and soft left-handers to score 11 points. But he left the game after picking up his second foul, joining Mahorcic, who also had two in the first half.

Smith hit an early 3-pointer and soon followed with a 25-footer for another. But the sophomore, shadowed defensively by Burton or Marquette transfer Greg Elliott much of the game, could not find the range often in the first half.

Joiner has had some strong second-half offensive showings for the Pack this season but could not generate much. His first point of the game came on a free throw with 5:41 left in the first half.

The Panthers rolled into Raleigh off an impressive win over Northwestern in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. They picked up an impressive ACC win.