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NC State didn’t have a letdown game, they had an ‘NC State’ game

Jan 17, 2013, 8:50 AM EDT

Alex Len, Nick Faust, C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell

COLLEGE PARK, Md – Forgive me if I’m the only one that believes this, but I’m not ready to buy into the narrative that No. 14 NC State’s loss to Maryland on Wednesday can simply be explained away by the Wolfpack struggling to overcome their win over No. 1 Duke.

Because if CJ Leslie hadn’t made the ridiculous decision to try and come from the other side of the lane to block a last-second shot by Pe’Shon Howard and, instead, had tried to lay a body on the lottery pick that was parked right in front of the rim, this conversation would be moot. Maryland wouldn’t have earned that 51-50 victory; they would have lost and NC State would still be undefeated in league play.

“We were lucky to win,” Terps head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game, and he’s right. It was an ugly shot on a busted play was so off that it never hit the rim. If that ball had bounced off the iron, I don’t know if Len would have had enough time for the putback.

And we’re going to judge the Wolfpack for a loss on a play like that?

Frankly, I think that performance says less about NC State’s ability to bounce-back from a big win than it does confirm everything that we believed about Mark Gottfried’s club from the first two and a half months of the season.

NC State is talented. There’s no questioning that. They are also confounding and inconsistent and an enigma. Too often they play down to the level of their opponents. Too often they struggle to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers in a position to score. Leslie doesn’t command the ball on a consistent enough basis. These are all things we knew and questioned about NC State prior to Wednesday night.

But now, since they followed up a win over a Duke with a loss at Maryland to a desperate Terp team that absolutely needed this win, they are suddenly the victim of “Big Win Letdown Syndrome”?

The bottom line is this: Maryland has some quality pieces on their roster. They are a good basketball team. They can really buckle down and defend, and they were playing in front of a raucous Comcast Center crowd. Their issues — the reason they had lost their only three relevant games heading into Wednesday — had nothing to do with their ability to defend or compete at a high level. Those three losses are by a combined 13 points. They stay in games, they just can’t close out games.

And it looked like the same thing was going to happen against NC State.

Until CJ Leslie decided it would be a good idea to try to block an unblockable shot from the other side of the paint instead of boxing out Alex Len.

That one decision cost them the game.

It had nothing to do with a letdown.

It had everything to do with NC State being NC State.

In the immortal words of Dennis Green: “They are who we thought they were.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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