New York – This loss was hard for UConn to digest.
The Huskies displayed heart and hustle in their first appearance in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
But the Huskies lacked the finishing touch, fading late and losing to No. 25 North Carolina State, 69-65.
"It was nothing they did," sophomore Ryan Boatright said. "I feel like we lost that game."
UConn (6-2) lost its intensity during the crucial late stages of the entertaining nonconference game.
North Carolina State (5-2) came up with the key loose balls and big rebounds. The Wolfpack's talent, size and athleticism eventually wore down the Huskies.
"They got the 50-50 balls," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "Our guys fought and boxed out… But we showed some toughness. We're getting better in the different things that we've got to get better in.
"… I don't think they out-toughed. They played a great game. They made more shots and made more winning plays when it counted."
Junior Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 19 points but had only four in the second half. Boatright had 18 points and junior Enosch Wolf came off the bench to score a career-high tying 12 points and added a career-best nine rebounds.
The improving Wolf's contribution was vital because frontcourt starters Tyler Olander (zero points, three rebounds) and DeAndre Daniels (seven points, one rebound) had quiet games.
The game began to slip away in the final five minutes, as the Wolfpack, the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason favorite, gradually seized control.
Junior C.J. Leslie's free throw handed N.C. State the lead for good, 54-53, with five minutes, 14 seconds remaining. His fastbreak dunk off a turnover increased the gap to 59-53, the Wolfpack's largest lead thus far.
UConn climbed no closer than three (61-58) the rest of the way. The athletic Leslie, who is a difficult matchup for any team, finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Junior guard Lorenzo Brown had 16 points and inside force Richard Howell added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"This was a gutsy win and I thought we really defended better in the second half," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "We had key defensive stops at important times."
A dropoff in intensity in the second half hurt the Huskies.
After outrebounding the bigger and strong Wolfpack, 20-17, in the first half, UConn lost the battle of the boards, 20-13, after intermission.
"The intensity was not there," Napier said. "For us to not come out the same way as we did in the first half shows we were not ready. We have to work on it and push forward."
The Huskies roared out to an 11-point lead (20-9) in the first half before N.C. State responded. They relied heavily on 3-pointers, with six of 11 made field goals coming from beyond the arc. The Wolfpack grabbed a 32-31 lead at the break.
In the second half, N.C. State began to bottle up Napier and Boatright, leaving no other reliable offensive options. Only Boatright and Daniels made field goals in the final seven minutes.
The Wolfpack kept attacking inside behind Howell and had 11 of their 16 offensive rebounds after intermission. They scored 42 points overall in the paint.
The loss left behind a sour taste for the Huskies.
"You lose games some way," Wolf said. "Everybody makes mistakes. Let's win a loose ball there, let's get one more rebound there, let's make one more shot and you win a game like this."
The Huskies fell to 1-1 versus top 25 teams this season. They beat then No. 14 Michigan State in the season opener Nov. 9 in Germany.
The game marked the return of veteran guard R.J. Evans who missed two games with a collarbone area injury. He had four points, two rebounds, two steals, a block and assist in 19 minutes.
UConn returns home and hosts Harvard on Friday night in Storrs.
"I have faith in the guys in the UConn jersey," Ollie said. "They are going to keep playing hard and we are going to go out and get ready for Harvard."