N.C. State rallied from a 15-point deficit to take a one-point lead but poor execution down the stretch led to an 87-83 loss to Syracuse Tuesday night in Raleigh. It was the seventh-straight loss to the Orange and put a serious crimp into finishing fourth and getting a double bye in the conference tournament.

Syracuse came out on fire, hitting over 70% of its shots for most of the first half. Yes, there was some poor defense involved but it was also an impressive shooting performance. Chris Bell hit his first eight 3-point shots of the game, all coming in the opening 20 minutes. The Orange took a 55-40 lead into intermission.

But State tightened up its defense and behind another strong shooting night from DJ Horne, they methodically worked themselves back into the game. Two free throws by Ben Middlebrooks gave the Pack an 82-81 lead with 3:21 left. It was their first lead since hitting the opening bucket of the game.

Among missed shots and turnovers for both teams, Middlebrooks hit another free throw to tie the game at 83-83. State had the ball with 1:27 remaining and called a time out. From that point forward, the Pack had a turnover by Jayden Taylor, a missed layup by Horne and a foul on DJ Burns. Syracuse hit both free throws to go up by two points with 15 seconds remaining.

After a time out, Horne had the ball in the corner with the shot clock winding down. He had Burns on the block but instead opted to hoist up a three. There was contact on the play and a foul could have easily been called but it would have been the case of the official bailing out a player who took a poor shot.

There was no whistle, the shot missed and State had to foul. Syracuse hit two free throws to ice the game.

Despite missing his last three shots, Horne finished with a game-high 32 points, the most he’s scored this year and the sixth straight game he’s topped the 20-point mark. Horne was terrific but could have used a quick blow in the second half. His last points came with 6:40 remaining in the game, as he converted an old-fashioned three-point play, with a free throw after a made bucket.

Horne’s been incredible lately but outside of Burns he hasn’t had much help offensively. State runs a bunch of screens for him but otherwise there’s too much standing around on offense whenever the Pack is in the halfcourt set.

Horne’s been so good that the failure of most of the other players on the team hasn’t stood out too much. But it’s fun to think of how dangerous the team could be if it had just one more reliable offensive player.

There’s no one really begging for more playing time, which is the problem. Ideally, either Casey Morsell or Jayden Taylor would step up but neither of them really has. Taylor has seen his minutes cut from earlier in the season, while Morsell has not. Here’s Morsell’s minutes and points the last four games:

2/7 – 37 minutes, 5 points
2/10 – 39 minutes, 9 points
2/17 – 33 minutes, 6 points
2/20 – 32 minutes, 4 points

Morsell is a combined 7-25 from the floor in these games, including 1-7 from behind the arc. Plus, he’s 9-17 from the foul line in this stretch. Just how bad does he have to be to spend more than eight minutes on the bench? Dennis Parker Jr. isn’t scoring, either, but at least he’s not taking a bunch of shots at a 28% rate.

It’s where the club really misses M.J. Rice, who’s out for the year and who’s going to apply for a redshirt season.

Burns and Middlebrooks scored 12 points each, with Burns adding four assists and two blocks, while Middlebrooks grabbed 10 rebounds.

The Pack will look to get back in the win column when it hosts Boston College Saturday at 2 p.m.

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