After Virginia’s defense made NC State look bad, what’s next for the No. 22 Wolfpack?

N.C. State’s Terquavion Smith used the word “flustered” to describe his mood Tuesday during the Pack’s 63-50 loss to No. 8 Virginia.

It probably would have described everyone in the Wolfpack locker room at halftime.

The Pack had missed 23 of their 31 first-half shots. The score was 34-20, Cavaliers. John Paul Jones Arena was a happy place.

Except the Wolfpack locker room, where it was not happy. There was a lot to discuss in what may have been a critical coaches-and-players session at intermission.

“I mean, we didn’t play like ourselves,” Smith, who had 19 points, said after the ACC game. “We didn’t bring it like we normally do. The coaches got on us about that. We didn’t come out like we normally do.”

In truth, the Wolfpack, ranked No. 22 this week, did not play that well Saturday in beating Georgia Tech at PNC Arena. The Pack (19-6, 9-5 ACC) trailed much of the first half, fell behind again in the second and had to gut out a 72-64 win over a team that was 1-11 in the ACC.

Had D.J. Burns not scored 24 points in that game, it could have been an embarrassing home-court loss that would have badly damaged the Pack’s NCAA tournament chances. Smith and Jarkel Joiner had 10 points between them against the Yellow Jackets’ 1-3-1 matchup zone.

Joiner followed up a sub-par game against Georgia Tech with another against Virginia. Held to five points by the Yellow Jackets, the point guard missed 12 of his 14 shots Tuesday — and six of his 3-point attempts — in another five-point game, although he did have six assists.

Joiner has been a dynamic player and the perfect backcourt complement for Smith this season. He has had his share of big moments, big games.

But Joiner has played a lot of minutes in recent games: 39 against Virginia and Wake Forest; 38 against North Carolina, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. He has been the Pack’s primary ballhander while keying the backcourt pressure on defense and against the opposing point guard.

Could Joiner be wearing down? It could bear watching in the final six games of the ACC’s regular season — the Pack plays at Boston College, then at Syracuse the next two games.

Teams also are using different basketball tactics against Burns. Florida State, for example, had its big guys take the ball hard at Burns, drawing contact, drawing fouls from the Pack center.

Wake Forest and Georgia Tech chose not to double up defensively on Smith. Bad decision. Burns went to work inside, scoring again and again with his left-handed hooks.

Virginia hit Burns with quick double teams and goaded him at times into making passes that the Cavaliers picked off — a product of good pregame scouting, quick instincts and anticipation in the game.

One constant for the Pack has been senior guard Casey Morsell. The former Virginia player returned to John Paul Jones Arena after two years away, soaked in pregame boos, then had 18 points as the Wolfpack’s best player in the loss.

North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts applauds during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Mike Kropf)
North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts applauds during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Mike Kropf)

Coaches like to ask “What now?” after tough losses. There is no time for sulking in ACC play. It’s go evaluate, be honest with yourself after mistakes, try to improve and move on.

“We’ve overcome adversity already in the season when we weren’t even jelled like we are now or as close as we are now,” Smith said. “We’re facing adversity again and I just feel like we’re going to bounce back.. Good preparation and we’ll be fine.”

Keatts was positive after the game, Morsell said. The Pack had a chance to slice the Cavaliers’ lead to six or seven on two possessions in the last seven minutes of the game but could not do it, turning the ball over and then having a shot blocked as the Cavaliers put it away.

“It’s a tough league to play in. Every possession matters, the little things matter,” Morsell said. “You’ve got to value shot selection. They tested our efficiency, tested our discipline.

“Credit to them, they did a great job, but it’s definitely something we’ve got to learn from. We’ve got to keep our heads up and be ready for the next one.”