NOTRE DAME — North Carolina State didn’t have any second-half letdown against Notre Dame.
After squandering double-digit leads in two of its previous three games, and nearly doing so in the third, the Wolfpack never led by double digits against the Fighting Irish but also never let the Irish get ahead in the second half in a 77-70 victory Tuesday night.
“It’s a great bounce-back win,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “We had a tough second half against Pitt and I liked the fact that our guys showed some resiliency and bounced back.”
T.J. Warren finished with 17 points, nearly seven points below his average, but got help as Anthony “Cat” Barber added 16 points, including hit a shot from near midcourt at halftime to give the Wolfpack (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) a 39-36 lead at halftime. Desmond Lee and Ralston Turner added 12 each and the Wolfpack bench outscored the Notre Dame reserves 23-9. The Wolfpack also outscored the Irish 25-9 from the free-throw line.
“It makes it a whole lot easier when everybody’s involved, being aggressive, making shots,” Warren said. “Everybody can’t focus on me, when we’ve got other guys making plays and making shots.”
Gottfried said the key was Warren let the game come to him.
“He missed some shots that I think we all count on him making every night, he’s so good. But I like that fact that we had good balance,” he said.
Lee got the Wolfpack going in the second half when he answered a 3-pointer by Connaughton with a 3 of his own, launching a 9-2 run by the Wolfpack. He followed that up with a pair of free throws and then Barber drove inside for a layup. Barber tried to go inside for another layup that was blocked by Austin Burgett. But Jordan Vandenberg scored on the rebound to give the Wolfpack their largest lead at 51-42.
Tom Knight made a pair of dunks and Connaughton hit a 3 to start an Irish rally. The Irish had a chance to cut the lead to 53-49 only to have Knight’s undefended dunk attempt clank off the rim. But the Irish tied it moments later at 54 on a 3 by Connaughton that capped a 12-3 run.
The Wolfpack responded with a jumper and a basket inside by Warren and moments later Turner converted on a three-point play when he was fouled on a fast break to give the Wolfpack a 66-59 lead.
The Irish used a 7-3 run to cut the lead to 69-66 when Steve Vasturia hit a 3-pointer with 1:29 left. But the Irish never got any closer as the Wolfpack made 8 of 10 free throws to hold on, making 25 of 32 free throws for the game.
It was the first loss in three games for the Irish (10-5, 1-1) since leading scorer Jerian Grant was dismissed from school for an academic violation.
“We just never could get into much of an offensive rhythm,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I thought tonight, for the first time, you guys saw a little bit of growing pains with this group.”
Garrick Sherman led the Irish with 21 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, Connaughton had 15 and Eric Atkins 14, who struggled after an impressive win against Duke.
“This game was different than the Duke game. They were a bigger team,” Atkins said. “We were not good with the ball today. We are going to have to clean that up if we want to win these types of games.”
Brey said the Irish had trouble inside against the Wolfpack, especially in the first half when they were outrebounded 23-13. The Wolfpack also forced the Irish into 11 turnovers and had a 16-10 advantage in points off turnovers.
“We had some really key turnovers, tough turnovers at key times,” Brey said. “It’s just young guys and being young. “
N.C. State, which lost its ACC opener 74-62 to Pittsburgh on Saturday, improved to 3-0 in ACC road openers under Gottfried.