At halftime of N.C. State’s upset win over Duke earlier this month, Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried made light of the foot injury that sidelined Blue Devils star forward Ryan Kelly for the game.
“‘[When you're Duke] you can just slip in a McDonald’s All American,” he told a sideline reporter. “That’s nice, isn’t it?”
His Wolfpack will now attempt to do the same in place of one of its own stars.
Lorenzo Brown, the pulse of the N.C. State attack and arguably the best point guard in the ACC, left Tuesday’s game against Virginia midway through the first half and did not return. Precisely when he will return to game action again is up in the air.
“Obviously we are different without him,” Gottfried said of Brown after the game. “We have to overcome that and if he doesn’t play on Saturday, we’ll have to do that for 40 minutes.”
Lucky for the Cavaliers, N.C. State fell apart in crunch time without its junior floor general.The team went the final 4:25 without making a shot from the floor and was held scoreless over the last 3:23. In all, the leaderless Wolfpack missed its last four field goal attempts while turning the ball over twice in the the final two minutes.
Gottfried’s team has struggled with its late-game execution even when its All-ACC caliber point guard has been at the helm. N.C. State committed a costly defensive gaffe — not using its last foul to give — in a last-second loss on the road to Maryland, a game in which the Wolfpack sunk just one field goal in the final 4:30. One week later, State became unglued again — this time in the second half of its game against Wake Forest — squandering a 16-point lead and unraveling in the final minute to complete the meltdown.
With a foreboding schedule ahead — including a home date on Saturday with Miami followed by a rematch in Durham with revenge-minded Duke — North Carolina State could be entering a danger zone if Brown is out for any extended period. Wolfpack officials gave no word as to the extent of Brown’s injury, presumed to be a sprained ankle, only to say his status for Saturday’s game against the ACC frontrunner is unclear.
Already handcuffed with a paper-thin bench and a strict, six-man rotation, Gottfried would likely lean on freshman McDonald’s All-American Tyler Lewis in Brown’s absence. The Oak Hill product was lauded for his court awareness and passing ability coming out of high school, but physical shortcomings paired with athletic limitations have kept the backup point guard out of N.C. State’s rotation in conference play. In a word, Lewis has proven to be unprepared for the college game thus far.
Coach Gottfried didn’t offer much sympathy for Duke, which has played the last four games without one of its senior leaders and turned to a freshman McDonald’s All-American to fill the void. Now cornered in a similar predicament two weeks later, let’s see if the Wolfpack head coach feels the same way about his own situation.