It’s never fun to lose.

But sometimes you can leave a loss with your head held high, knowing you executed the game plan and played close to the best of your ability. And this was one of those types of games for the Pack. They went on the road to play a team ranked 35th in the NET and both out-shot and out-rebounded their opponent. But they missed shots late and could not overcome a 10-free -throw discrepancy, falling to Wake Forest, 83-79, Saturday afternoon.

State opened up with a smaller group on the floor but quickly went to the two-big lineup that we’ve been asking for in this space and played the rest of the way with that look. How committed were they to having size on the floor? Ernest Ross, a 6-9 forward who had played a grand total of one minute in ACC action coming into today, saw the floor in both halves.

It was great to see.

Mo Diarra played 33 minutes and had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. DJ Burns played 30 minutes and had 14 points. And it’s hard to watch State get called for ticky-tack fouls while Burns gets mugged every time he touches the ball and virtually never gets a call. Speaking of cheap fouls, Ben Middlebrooks had four whistles go against him in just 10 minutes of action. And State missed him not being able to play more, as he finished with a +10 those few minutes he was on the floor.

The Pack got a brilliant game from DJ Horne, who went 13-21 to finish with a team-high 31 points. Horne hit on 4-7 shots from behind the arc and played with a swagger, knowing the other team couldn’t stop him from getting points.

It all worked brilliantly until the final four possessions. Both Burns and Horne missed shots they were making all game, good shots in the flow of the offense. On the penultimate possession, Horne forced a shot that did not go in. And the final shot was a three-quarters court heave by Michael O’Connell which was on target but just short. But even if it had gone in, State would have come up a point shy of overtime.

This is the type of effort that will result in a win nine times out of 10. While there are no moral victories in the middle of conference play, if State plays with this type of effort and this type of coaching for every game the rest of the season, I’ll be a happy fan.

Perhaps they can get a better shake from the officials going forward, too.

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