If you had seen D.J. Horne standing outside the N.C. State locker room Saturday and didn’t know if the Wolfpack had won or lost, he wouldn’t have given off any clues.
He wasn’t upset. He wasn’t complaining. There was a bit of disappointment in his eyes but otherwise Horne was composed, showing a degree of maturity that can be rare in some college athletes when questioned after a tough loss.
The Pack was still winding down from an 83-79 loss to Wake Forest at Joel Coliseum. Horne had scored 31 points, but missed a shot with three seconds left that would have tied the score and likely led to overtime.
Instead of any anger about the game, Horne used the word “fun” a few times.
“We knew we beat them earlier in the season and we knew there would be a lot of energy coming from their end today,” the Wolfpack guard said. “As a player, you get up for these types of games. I have in my career and I felt like I was definitely up and prepared for this game.
“I trust my work and when I saw shots going in, that’s always fun.”
Horne saw 13 shots go in against the Deacons and four were 3-pointers. The Joel Coliseum crowd of 12,571, the vast majority Wake Forest fans and loud and engaged all game, groaned a bit when Horne went off.
Some were more vocal than others. After Horne scored one first-half basket, he turned to the crowd and put his forefinger to his lips. The response was some jeers, and one Wake Forest fan stood to give Horne the middle finger.
“Yeah, man, the crowd was talking to me a little bit, chirping,” Horne said, smiling. “I’m sure everybody knows why.”
Horne didn’t say it but the “why” was a reference to him being reprimanded by the ACC for directing both middle fingers toward a referee late in the Pack’s 83-76 win over Wake Forest in Raleigh.
“I definitely wanted to come out here and match anything they were giving me, whether that was on the court or in the stands,” Horne said.
Horne had 19 points in the first half as the Pack took a 45-39 lead, bouncing around the floor, enjoying himself. With Mohamed Diarra coming off the bench and playing with some fire and energy, the Wolfpack ran the floor, rebounded well and generally contained a team coming off 29-point ACC demolitions of Syracuse and Georgia Tech.
The Deacs at times had Cameron Hildreth, a 6-4 junior, matched up against Horne in the second half although the Deacs threw in some double teams, looking to make Horne give up the ball.
Horne and Hildreth both were called for technical fouls late in the first half after some cross words. And their chirping continued after halftime, not that Horne made a big issue of it
“He’s a good defender and we definitely had that going,” Horne said. “With a good defender, I feel like he’s definitely trying to get in my head and try to slow me down a little on offense.”
After Andrew Carr’s inside score over Diarra with 17 seconds left in regulation pushed Wake ahead 81-79, Wake coach Steve Forbes called a timeout. Wake Forest, which had been called for four fouls in the second half, used one with 13 seconds remaining when Boopie Miller fouled Michael O’Connell.
When the Pack got the ball in-bounds, everyone in the building knew who would get it.
Would he take a 3 for the win or just look to score and tie it?
“We were just looking for the first available shot, trying to get a quick one just in case we did miss it, so we could get the rebound and we’d have a second opportunity,” Horne said
“It wasn’t like we were going for a specific shot.”
Horne took the ball on the right side, made a move to get past Hildreth, and took a jumper from near the foul line with Deacs center Efron Reid coming out at him. The shot was well short, the ball grazing the front of the rim.
“They made him take a tough shot,” NCSU coach Kevin Keatts said.
So ended something of a scoring duel between Horne and Wake’s Hunter Sallis, who had a game-high 33 points and made two free throws with three seconds left to end it.
Horne and the Wolfpack (15-9, 7-6 ACC) will have a week to mull it over and analyze it. The next game is at Clemson on Saturday, the ACC path a hard one for State.
“I do believe this game can help us in the next one,” Horne said. “It was a very close game and came down to the wire. I felt like when we go back and watch the film, we’ll see a lot of mental mistakes where we kind of lost focus, where we can clean things up.”
Is the NCAA tournament still a realistic goal?
“Yes, it is,” Horne said. “We’ve got a lot of Quad-1 opportunities left. It’s going to be tough but I definitely think we can do it.”