NC State found a way to walk out of Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time since 1995 with a win. The Pack gave full effort refusing to lose when things got tough and proved they are making some progress. Let’s take a look at last night’s win.
Dennis Smith Jr had an outstanding game, his best in Red & White to date.
NC State needed a monumental effort out of Smith if they were going to win at Duke and he answered the call. Duke could not stop Smith as he torched them to the tune of 32 points. Many of Smith’s baskets came in critical junctures of the game that allowed the Pack to stay in striking distance. The close of the first half appeared to be going in Duke’s favor; however, Smith went on a personal 6-0 run to cut a 12 point deficit to just 6 before the half.
In the second half, Smith continued his stellar play by getting his teammates involved. He recorded all 6 of his assists in the second half leading NC State to shoot 55% from the field to overcome the 6 point halftime hole. It wasn’t just about Smith’s stat line last night. It was about his swagger and desire to do whatever was necessary to win. Dennis Smith Jr has that “it” factor. His competitiveness and desire to win willed his team to victory. His attitude was contagious as each player left it all on the court!
Ted Kapita gave NC State toughness and energy off the bench.
Mark Gottfried said, “have a hunch bet a bunch.” He had a gut feeling that Kapita needed to be the first player off the bench and it paid off! Kapita finished the game with 14 points (6-7 from field) and 10 rebounds! NC State fed off of Kapita’s energy by playing harder which allowed the Pack to survive Duke’s runs. Duke did not have an answer for Ted’s effort as the freshman wanted the basketball more than anyone else on the court. That is why NC State needs him to play more because he brings an edge to the Pack that no one else does. With Ted in the game, NC State plays harder. Kapita should be rewarded with more playing time as he appeared to be a good fit alongside Abu.
NC State showed progress as they found a way to win.
Duke had a couple of opportunities to put the game way; however, NC State refused to quit. The Pack found ways to get stops when they needed to by protecting the paint better in the second half. They did not allow Duke to have uncontested layups. Defensively, they did a much better job at not fouling, as the Blue Devils attempted 21 free-throws on the night.
Offensively the Wolfpack found ways to score when the game was in question. Smith was not alone in making big shots as Maverick Rowan hit tough shots down the stretch. Rowan also came up with clutch free-throws to keep NC State ahead. Malik Abu avoided foul trouble and scored 19 points on 8-12 shooting. It wasn’t about X’s and O’s last night it was the will to win. NC State wanted this game more than Duke, period.
Defensively NC State accepted the challenge but still needs to communicate better.
Overall NC State defended better as they improved in keeping their man out of the paint. NC State players accepted the challenge of taking away the paint off the dribble. Individually, they decided they were not going to allow uncontested layups as they protected the rim. Jayson Tatum missed several layups down the stretch because NC State refused to give up on the play. They recovered and contested well.
Communication still needs improvement, especially on ball screens. NC State guards need to be better at fighting through screens to prevent big men from having to hedge so much. Post players need to communicate frequently to guards to let them know where the screener is coming from as early as possible. Guards will have more time to adjust and fight over the impending screen. Sometimes communication is too late, which puts the Pack in a bad situation where the guard is not aware of the screen, resulting in an advantage for the offense. Last night NC State got lucky that Duke did not hit some open shots.
Coach Gottfried is still figuring his group out.
Mark Gottfried was open about how he is still trying to figure out which lineup combinations work best for his team. Last night BeeJay Anya played just 3 minutes as Ted Kapita captured his usual minutes as a result of his strong play. Kapita gave NC State more energy and versatility because he is capable of playing out of the high post as well as the block. With Kapita and Abu in the game, NC State has two guys that provide spacing under the basket. That space helps Smith when he looks to attack the rim by not having a help-side defender in his pocket.
NC State believes in each other. Their belief in each other is why they still have an opportunity to finish the season strong. I cannot tell you which team will come out on Sunday at Louisville, but I do know that NC State just beat Duke and that is something to enjoy.