It was a familiar story, at least latel, for the NC State basketball team Saturday in its 75-65 loss to No. 6 Louisville at PNC Arena.
There were too few baskets, even fewer stops, a second half rally that couldn't quite erase a large deficit and yet another missed opportunity to enhance a season resume that at the current moment, likely has the Wolfpack on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
All that, along with a career shooting night from unlikely Cardinals hero Ryan McMahon, added up to a third straight setback, one that dropped State to 14-8 overall (5-6 in the ACC).
Here's what coach Kevin Keatts had to say at his postgame press conference:
"First of all, give Louisville a lot of credit. That's probably the best team we've played so far. It's obvious when you look at those guys. They're 10-1 in this league and 19-3 overall. They're playing really good basketball .
"I thought we did a tremendous job on (leading scorer Justin) Nwora and (Steven) Enoch, but certainly Ryan McMahon had a tremendous night. He shot the heck out of the basketball. We knew coming into the game he could make shots, but some of the shots he made in the first half were pretty doggone good.
"That having been said, I like my team's fight. We came out in the second half and we fought extremly well. With 11 minutes in the game, we were down 56-52 and then we went for a long drought without scoring. We're having a hard time and I think the reason we're having a hard time is because I haven't had a lot of practice time with all our guys out there together.
"One of the frustrating things for me as a guy who the majority of my career we've scored points in the 70s and 80s. Right now we've had several games that we've been in the 60s. Some of that were due to the teams we're playing against. When you're playing against Virginia on the road, you get those kind of things.
"But there were some bright spots. We finally got C.J. (Bryce) going a little bit. But that being said, I thought we had too many mental errors. I thought we turned the ball over in bad situations and didn't make shots. I've got to figure out how to get everybody playing well. I like our grit. I like how we fought. There's a lot of things we can take away from this. But obviously if we don't score, it's going to be tough on us. I want to be able to score the basketball a little more than we've been doing in the last few games."
Keatts was asked about Braxton Beverly's back problem and the coach wound up addressing the general health -- or lack thereof -- of his entire team:
"I told the team this, (Beverly) is probably the thoughest guy in that locker room. What he's got going on with his pain, most guys would sit out for 3-4 weeks. They really would. He just won't do that. He wants to give to his team. Unfortunately he's banged up.
"He doesn't have a serious injury, he's just banged up. It's kind of one of those situations where I talk to him every game and I try to limit him in practice so he can play on game. I ask him 'How do you feel? Do you feel like you can play tonight? If you can't, it's okay.' And he's never said no. I've just got to keep my eye on him and make sure we're taking care of him. He's the same type of guy that will go out there every game and try to take a charge. He's the same guy that will get on the floor for a basketball.
"But it's the whole team. It's been a little bit of a challenge, because for the first time in my career I've had three guys with concussions. We're banged up. We've just got to figure out in the next few days just how to get everybody just a little healthier and a little more on the same page so we can score some points offensively."
Keatts lamented the fact that his team was in the bonus before the first TV timeout and the double bonus with 9 1/2 minutes left in the half, and forced six early Louisville turnovers, but still led by only one -- at 21-19 -- with seven minutes left in the period.
"We're struggling to score the ball. I'm sitting over there just like you and I'm saying 'Man, we've done a great job getting them in foul trouble and they're not scoring.' We just have to figure out a way to put the ball in the hole a little bit.
"Basketball is not that complicated. I've got to figure out how to get my best players playing better offensively. And they're not right now. It could be a combination of a lot of things -- maybe overthinking, some of those guys are banged up and it could be just the chemistry of playing together.
There was a stretch early in the second half in which the Wolfpack, led by struggling leading scorer C.J. Bryce, got its fullcourt press going to run off spurts of 13-3 and 7-0, and get back to within four at 56-52. Although State wasn't able to overcome a 17-point Cardinals lead, Keatts said the comeback showed what his team can do when it plays to its capabilities.
"The last couple of years, we've probably led the ACC in forcing turnovers. If not first, then second. We've been able to do that by picking up fullcourt. Also, we've been one of the best 3-point field goal percentage defensive teams in the country because of the fact that we've pressed you and you can't shoot as well because we get after you and take your legs away. We showed some glimpses of it. I thought we did a good job of it. Louisville only had 12 assists and 18 turnovers. Our problem today, and it's been for the last couple of days, is we haven't been able to score.
"I thought we did some good things. I thought if we were scoring the ball, even though Ryan (McMahon) was tremendous in the first half, it would have been about 41-38 (at halftime). But we missed some opportunities. We missed some chippies around the basket. Second half we shot the ball ball a little bit better (4 of 13 compared to 1 of 9) from three than we did in the first half.
I've got to figure out how to get these guys healthy. It may be as simple as we're off (on Sunday). There's a chance I may have to take two days off just to get then so rest because right now, the most important thing for us and the program is rest over putting it on the floor."
Pat Andree played for the first time since injuring his ankle against Clemson three games ago, but missed both of his field goal attempts -- including a 3-pointer in which he hesitated before putting the ball up.
Keatts was asked if perhaps Andree and others, including Bryce, were overthinking things right now and if so, what can be done to combat the problem:
"Just giving him confidence. What I tell the guys is shoot the ball. Guys like Pat who's a fifth-year guy, they want to play so well at this level. But when you don't have the lift because of your ankle, it's tough on him.
"He came into the league and he was making shots early on. Then he started missing shots and so you overthink and sometimes you start questioning should or could you play at this level. Obviously he can because of his shot making ability. It comes down to confidence and feeling good about it."
"He's a guy that has not practiced. We had him limited reps (Friday) just to make sure he could play in the game. Typically I have a policy that if a guy can't practice then I won't play him in the game. But he was able to get out there and practice a little bit. He's a guy playing with a bum ankle. He's got to know that I believe in him and any shot that he takes."
Finally, Keatts was asked about the defense -- or lack thereof -- on McMahon, especially in the first half when he made his first six 3-point attempts on the way to seven for the game and a career-high 23 points.
"I thought Devon Daniels did a tremendous job in the second half. Everytime they skipped the ball to him, he closed with a high hand, took him away and made him (dribble) the basketball.
"It wasn't so much that he got wide open shots. When they went four out and one in, we did a great job of taking Enoch away. They skipped it and our help-side defense got caught inside. It wasn't as much as the guy who closed out on him with the shots, it was the guy guarding the basketball didn't have active hands and he didn't pressure the basketball. Because of that, they were able to make direct passes across the court and he got some rhythm threes. Once a guy gets going like that and he's a shooter, you're capable of making those type of shots."