It may only have been the first game of a new season. But already, NC State's basketball luck -- especially when it comes to close finishes against Georgia Tech -- is in midseason form.
Playing without star point guard Markell Johnson, who injured his ankle at practice last week, the Wolfpack squandered a 15-point first half lead and wasted a chance to win at the end of regulation before dropping an 82-81 decision to the Yellow Jackets Tuesday in a rare ACC opener at PNC Arena.
It was game whose ending was excrutiatingly familiar.
Just last March, in its most recent game played at PNC, Tech spoiled State's Senior Night celebration on a James Banks dunk with just over a second remaining.
Banks, a 6-foot-10 senior who terrorized the Wolfpack to the tune of 20 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots, was once again the villain -- making a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds left to provide the Yellow Jackets with their winning margin.
"I was hoping that hw would miss them both," State coach Kevin Keatts said after the Wolfpack's fifth loss in its last six meetings with Tech. "But he stepped up and made both of those free throws. He's a good player and he did a tremendous job."
And yet this time, Banks' final shots are likely to be remembered only as an anticlimactic footnote compared to the comedy of errors that preceded them.
It started with a timely defensive play by the Devon Daniels, who ripped the ball out of Banks' hands in the lane to preserve -- at least momentarily -- the one-point lead the Wolfpack was protecting.
As the clock ticked under 20 seconds remaining, the junior guard put the ball on the floor and headed upcourt, seemingly out of trouble. But instead of holding onto the ball and either fouling or letting time expire, Daniels inexplicably left his feet and threw a pass in the direction of teammate Manny Bates.
Given time to think about it once the game ended, Daniels knew right away it was a bad decision. Unfortunately for him and his team, he didn't have time to think about it in the heat of the moment.
"I stole the ball. I was trying to get it past halfcourt," he said. "I saw three of them trying to come at me. I thought Manny was open, but I should have kept the ball, kept it in my hands and made them foul me."
Had Daniels' pass been on target to a player with the experience to know what to do with it, things still might have worked out for the best. He might even have taken it in for a dunk that put the game away.
But that's not how the Wolfpack's luck works.
In this case, Daniels threw the ball slightly behind Bates, a 6-11 freshman playing in his first regular season game in two years because of a series of shoulder injuries.
He never had a chance.
The ball slipped through his hands, near the sideline in front of State's bench -- where it was kept inbounds by Tech's Khalid Moore. Alertly, he quickly turned advanced the ball back toward the Yellow Jackets' end of the floor with 10.9 seconds left.
For a moment, it appeared as if State might survive to play another overtime when Tech's Jose Alvarado -- just as he did at the end of regulation -- pulled up and missed a 3-pointer from the top of the circle.
This time, though, there was enough time remaining for Moore to come down with the offensive rebound and feed Banks for a shot that led to the decisive foul call.
Despite Keatts' attempt to ice him with a timeout, the Yellow Jackets' resident Wolfpack killer came through again.
"It was a bang-bang play," Keatts said. "I wish Devon would have had a chance to hold the ball. I thought we could have got fouled and got to the free throw line. But he saw Manny streaking and passed the ball to him.
"Unfortunately it hit his hands and went through (them). It could have been a different outcome. Unfortunately it's a situation that happens so quick and you can't get it back."
The disappointing finish spoiled what could have been a momentum-building victory to start the season for the Wolfpack.
With graduate transfer Pat Andree hitting three early 3-pointers, State jumped out to a 39-24 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the first half. But with bench shortened by Johnson's injury and a third foul on his replacement Braxton Beverly, the advantage slowly began to melt away.
Tech finally caught up at 48-all with 13 1/2 minutes to go, but could never take the lead thanks to the clutch play of senior guard C.J. Bryce (24 points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore Jericole Hellems (15 points) off the bench.
But State missed three close range shots in the final seconds and after Asanti Price hit a 3-pointer to start overtime for the Yellow Jackets' first lead of the night, it spent the rest of overtime tying to play catchup.
"It's real frustrating," Daniels said. "We worked all summer and wanted to come out and get a win. But we're going to bounce back. We're going to learn from it and get better."