Ryan Boatright wasn't mincing words when he explained what happened in Connecticut's 69-65 loss to No. 25 North Carolina State on Tuesday night in the second game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
"It was nothing they did. We lost that game," Boatright said after scoring 18 points, one fewer than backcourt mate Shabazz Napier.
The two combined to take 34 of the Huskies' 62 shots from the field and they made 14 of Connecticut's 25 field goals.
"They're important. They are the focal point of our offense, but we do need other guys to step up," first-year Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said. "What we have is enough in the locker room and our guards are the leaders, but we need other people to step up."
One player who did was Enosch Wolf, a 7-foot-1 junior who had 22 points total entering the game. He finished with 12, matching his career high, and a career-best nine rebounds. He was 6 for 8 from the field for the Huskies (6-2) and that included a couple of jumpers where he leaned back and stuck a leg out. It looked a lot like the kind of shot taken by Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, who like Wolf is a native of Germany.
"Seems like he likes the big stage," Ollie said of Wolf. "He has confidence, gets to his spots and knows his limitations, which is a great strength. He boxed out and played hard. He plays aggressively and we need that."
Richard Howell had 13 points and grabbed all 10 of his rebounds in the second half, and C.J. Leslie had 16 points and 13 rebounds to lead North Carolina State.
The Wolfpack (5-2), who had lost two of three, have dropped 19 spots in the AP poll over the last four weeks after being ranked No. 6 in the preseason Top 25.
"I think this was a gutsy win and I thought we really defended better in the second half," Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. "First half, (Connecticut's) rebounding killed us. We were not rebounding the ball nearly as well as we can and they did a great job."
Howell led North Carolina State's second-half rush to the boards. The Wolfpack had 20 rebounds in the second half, 11 on the offensive end — and Howell grabbed seven of those. The Huskies had 13 rebounds in the second half, six offensive.
"They got the 50-50 balls. They boxed out and Howell got some loose balls," Ollie said. "I wouldn't say they out-toughed us. They made more plays, winning plays, when it counted."
Napier scored Connecticut's first 10 points of the game and led the Huskies to an 11-point lead. The Wolfpack later used an 11-2 run that brought them within one and they led 32-31 at halftime.
There were three ties from 8:19 to 5:14, when Leslie made two free throws for a 55-53 lead the Wolfpack never relinquished.
"I felt like we lost our intensity in the second half," Napier said. "They got a lot of offensive rebounds, Howell and Leslie got most of them in the second half. You're supposed to pick yourself up in the second half and we fell short.
"I can't stress enough that the intensity wasn't there. We let down big time. That speaks that we weren't ready in the second half."
Lorenzo Brown had 16 points for North Carolina State and Scott Wood had 13.
Both programs had a connection to the doubleheader that is part of ESPN's week of raising money for the V Foundation as it continues to help in the fight against cancer.
Jim Valvano's signature moment came in 1983 when the Wolfpack won the national championship on a dunk by Lorenzo Charles at the buzzer and Valvano ran around the court looking for someone to hug.
Valvano's widow, Pam, flew up with the team from Raleigh.
Gottfried asked adidas to help him design a uniform for this special occasion.
"They came up with kind of the design which I thought was really good when I first saw it. I thought it was really cool," he said. "I like the net somewhat around the neck, it's kind of lightly seen but it's there. Then I really love the back of the jerseys. I even like the old-style lettering, 'State' in the old-fashioned block lettering for one night."
On the back, instead of the player's name, each jersey had Valvano's trademark phrase, "Don't Ever Give Up."
"There is such history playing in a building like this," Leslie said. "We played in a great tournament, got a great win. This was for him and I'm sure he's thinking this is great."
Sitting a few rows behind the Connecticut bench was Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, who retired this year after leading the Huskies to three national championships. He is a three-time cancer survivor, overcoming prostate cancer in 2003 and skin cancer twice, most recently in 2008.
"It's great that they have raised over $100 million for research," Ollie said. "My father had prostate cancer six years ago and it's gone. We're going to beat this disease."
No. 15 Georgetown beat Texas 68-41 in the first game.