NC State is heading to their second Sweet 16 in the Mark Gottfried era after knocking off #1 Villanova (who had lost only 2 games all season). They did it by executing with laser focus, playing with fire and tenacity and having well well balanced attack where everyone was involved. It was a team win where everything that needed to happen, did happen. Their leader, Trevor Lacey, played like their leader. Cat Barber controlled pace and disrupted Nova’s defense. Malik Abu continued his onslaught in the paint. And senior Dez Lee played an (unexpected but deserving) huge role in this one. Let’s take a closer look…
Lacey Came Focused and Hungry
This was the type of performance you need from you leader in big games. As Tyler pointed out in our pregame piece on Lacey, this was a nice matchup for him. He’s struggled with bigger guards that have length who have made it tough to get his shot off. Against Ennis he had a size advantage and it showed. Trevor pretty much did what he wanted against the Villanova defense. His 17 points were a team high and he also added 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Overall Lacey was as advertised. He hit huge shots and found a perfect balance for his attack. He didn’t take bad, forced shots, but picked his moments and came up huge. This is the Trevor Lacey that can lead NC State to the Final 4.
Barber Poised, Aggressive
Boy, Cat Barber has certainly arrived. A guy who at one point in the season was actually removed from the starting rotation has come back to become the motor that runs the entire team. Barber has become a true PG. Look at his stats. 13 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds. Not all that impressive right? But if you watched the game then you understand that he was the one controlling it. He set pace, he made the offense flow, and he was locking down on defense all night long. Great PGs don’t always light the stat sheet on fire, but when you watch one play, you can feel it. Last night you felt it. Barber’s ability to get in the lane, break the press and make shots when the team needed it was paramount in this victory.
Gottfried Calls Dez’s Number
Maybe it was the quick fouls on Turner, or maybe Gottfried just saw his senior missing shots and getting beat too often on defense in this one. Whatever it was, the call to pull Turner and play Dez Lee was a game changer. With Barber, Lacey and Lee on the floor, State became a different team. They stopped hunting down 3s and started attacking to basket. They ran their offense, found cuts, got their bigs involved and took control of the game. Sure, the fact that Lee came in ready to play, made some huge buckets and played lock down defense (without any miscues) was huge, but the real takeaway was the team dynamic. Ralston has been great for NC State. He’s won this team a lot of games with his shooting and he did knock down some big FTs at the end, but trying to run the offense through him and relying too much on his shot digs the Pack into some deep holes sometimes. We’ve been saying this since midseason. Turner is still a major part of this team, but if he’s not hitting his 3s then why not go with someone else? Turner is a great spot shooter, but having Lee on the floor bring a lot more defense, flow and versatility to this lineup.
All that being said, let’s turn our focus on the feel good story of Dez Lee. The guy who transferred in, played a large role as a junior but saw a lot of his minutes eaten away by the arrival of Trevor Lacey and the shooting of Ralston Turner this season. Lee could have pouted, been disruptive and gone sour on this team, but he didn’t. He kept working. He kept playing hard when his number was called, and on the biggest stage of his career he put forth his biggest performance. You’ve got to be proud of this kid! But I don’t think he’s done just yet. With Abu coming into his own as an offensive threat and Freeman and Anya capable as well, all of the sudden NC State doesn’t have to live and die by the 3. If Ralston isn’t hitting, or State needs to ramp up the defense, I think you’ll start seeing a lot more D Lee in the Sweet 16.
Abu’s Paint Dominance
You could see Abu’s potential when he arrived. Great body, scary athleticism, but hard hands, no back to the basket footwork and poor touch around the rim. Turns out, a lot of that was just getting comfortable and adjusting. Sure, the staff has worked hard to tailor his skills to the college game, but the talent has always been there. Now you’re starting to see the confidence and the hunger in his game. He’s playing hard, inviting physicality and demanding the ball in the paint. With Abu’s ability to score NC State become much more well rounded.
The talk over the past few days was all about State’s guards vs. Nova’s guards, but as we stated in our pregame articles, the bigs could end up deciding this basketball game. They did. With Turner’s shot off and Nova being a bit undersized, State was more than willing too feed Abu. And he did not disappoint. The freshman dominated the Wildcat bigs to the tune of 13 points and 12 rebounds. His relentlessness in the paint was a huge factor in State’s 13 offensive boards and their 32-20 difference in the rebounding numbers. I think last night is certainly going to make teams edit their scouting report to factor in this kid.
Don’t Forget Freeman
I think we can all agree. Lennard Freeman is taken for granted. The guy isn’t flashy, doesn’t throw down monster dunks and gets blocked more than almost any other big I’ve ever seen, but 11 points and 12 boards against a 1 seed doesn’t lie. And he’s been doing this since being inserted back into the lineup mid season. Freeman gives State energy. He gives them muscle in the middle and he gives them a workhorse who you can plug in and know what you’re going to get every time. Think of him as a late blooming Richard Howell. Freeman was an afterthought when he was recruited, but he’s become a big piece to this puzzle and he’s only getting better. Remember that this kid, age wise, could really be a freshman, but take a look at him and he looks like he might be a senior. He’s got a massive frame and he’s been using it.
Against Villanova Freeman was awesome. Fighting for rebounds, playing great position defense, and slowly but surely getting his offense together. It was nice to see him open up the second half with a little back-down baby hook. Him showing some scoring ability was big. It made the Nova bigs have to stay put and not help one another (with Abu on the opposite side). Sure, most of Freeman’s buckets were garbage buckets, and they might always be, but that’s how Richard Howell made a living and it’s a huge reason State is surviving and advancing. Let’s not make the mistake of overlooking him.
Gottfried Pulling The Right Strings
How many NC State coaches in history have ever gone to the NCAA tournament 4 times in their first 4 seasons? None. How about over 90 wins in their first 4 season? None. How about 2 sweet 16s in that time period? None. Gottfried is breaking all kinds of records at NC State and he’s just getting started. The guy knocked off 4 hall of fame coaches this season and took a team picked to finish 10th in the ACC to the Sweet 16. How has he done it? Well, he’s made a lot of smart moves, especially this year, many of which I think have gone overlooked.
For instance. Moving Kyle Washington to the bench and inserting Lennard Freeman. I can’t tell you how many people questioned this move. Freeman can’t score…we need offense…etc. All that move did was turn the season around by refocusing the team’s needs and channelling shots through Lacey and Turner. Washington was at times a black hole and with him as the 4, they needed him under the basket instead of on the short corner taking jumpers. State was being beaten on the boards and they already taking enough quick shots with Lacey and Turner. They didn’t need Washington doing the same. There was a lack of flow and chemistry on the floor and Gottfried recognized it while others were pointing the finger elsewhere. (Not taking shots at Kyle here because as you saw against LSU, he’s a very valuable player at times, but at this point more of a off-the-bench energy guy.)
And how about Cat Barber? When Tyler Lewis left there were a lot of people who wondered if Gott had made the right choice. Barber looked lost at times and just didn’t look like a true game changing PG. Gottfried knew otherwise and went all in on Cat. He coached him, mentored him and has really made it his duty to make Cat into a elite player. That work has paid off for both of them. Cat is now showing his ability to lead a team on a national stage and Gottfried has a guy he can trust running his team.
All of these things have been coming together over the last half of this season and they all seemed to meet and peak last night. Like we stated earlier, the Dez Lee move was just masterful. Maybe it was a bit lucky or maybe the staff had pegged Lee as a guy who could be big against Nova. Either way it worked and while we are heaping praise on the players, I think taking a step back and really seeing what Gottfried is doing with this program is advised.
OUR TAKE: On NC State’s selfless win over William & Mary
Another cupcake game, another huge blowout. This NC State team continues to take care of business, finishing off the Tribe 85-64.
The win is great and all, but a notch in the win column over W&M isn’t all that impressive. What is impressive, however, is the way this team is winning. This team can, and has beaten teams in so many different ways. Whatever the game has called for, NC State has had the answer.
Against Dayton, they needed to match their physicality and their experience. They did that, outrebounding a bigger, stronger Dayton team 34-28 and relying on Jarkel Joiner to keep the team focused and playing at their pace. (Joiner also went for 27 points).
Against Butler they needed to neutralize Manny Bates and expose their lack of depth inside. They did this with Mahorcic and Burns going for a combined 27 points and limiting Bates to just 8 points.
Then last night, against a William and Mary team who was scrappy and active on defense, and throwing double teams at NC State, they had to pass their way into easy buckets. They did this with 18 assists (W&M only had 8). The Pack was led by Terquavion Smith’s 7 assists, while his backcourt mate, Joiner, dished out 6. Even Dusan Mahorcic got in the action with 3.
The point I’m making is that the whole reason I’ve been so bullish on this NC State team from the get-go is that I recognized this versatility. The game of basketball is about matchups. Any small mismatch can put a lot of pressure on an entire team. Look at it like a chain. If one link of the chain is broken, the entire chain is no good. Same goes for basketball, if one defender can’t stay in front of his man, or one big can’t handle the guy he’s guarding, you need help. When a guy rotates over in help side, it creates a series of events that all have to go perfectly if you want to stop your opposition from scoring. The next guy over needs to recognize one of his teammates leaving for help, he then needs to rotate to the guy that was just left, meaning the next guy over has to rotate. All of this rotation is what makes up team defense, and as much as you teach team defense, these 19-year-olds are not going to be able to stay focused enough to consistently make the right read.
That’s why having no mismatches is key. It eliminates a lot of problems you may have on the defensive end. Last year there were mismatches all over the floor. We didnt have a PG who could stop these lighting quick guards from getting to the rim. When they got to the rim, we didn’t have an interior guy who could be relied upon to protect the basket. And then you had an undersized Hellems at the 4, who many teams attacked in the post.
A good coach looks for these mismatches and exploits them.
This team, however, is really hard to get a mismatch again. Joiner can guard any quick PG and he’s big and strong enough to bang with a stronger, thicker PG. Smith is long enough and quick enough to stay in front of most 2 guards. Morsell, NC State’s best overall defender, can guard pretty much anyone at the 3 with his size, strength, and understanding of defensive positioning. At the 4 you have Jack Clark, who has been huge for this team’s defense. He’s 6’8, mobile and athletic, and he’s a pretty gritty kid who doesn’t mind contact in the post. Then you have the bigs. Dusan is a horse. If you need a banger or enforcer, he’s your guy. Then you have Burns, who’s size alone makes him tough to move around. You saw Bates struggle with Burns sheer size. Bates is tall, springy, and long, but he’s got a thin frame. Sure he’s packed on lean muscle, but lean muscle ain’t moving a guy like Burns. The only thing I saw that could really hurt the Pack is super tall 3 who can hang on the perimeter and get shots off over Morsell (Like Grady Dick), or a really athletic, undersized big. I thought KJ Adams would probably cause problems, but he didn’t. Mahorcic is a lot more nimble than I was expecting, and I’m not as concerned as I was on that front.
Getting back to this game, NC State moved the ball well, ramped up the defense after a slow first 5 minutes, and overwhelmed the Tribe with size and speed.
Here are a few things that really stood out to me…
– Casey Morsell is on fire. Morsell went off again for 23 points on 8-12 shooting and 6-9 from 3-point range. He’s not shooting 53% from long range which is absolutely insane seeing as he’s shot 47 3’s (he’s hit 25 of those). In fact, Morsell shot 100 3’s last year and only hit 35 all season long. That’s still 35% which isn’t all that bad, but he’s going to eclipse that number over the next few games, and we’re only just entering ACC play. And this isn’t some random hot streak, in my opinion. Morsell is hitting 3s at home on the road (so far only in the Atlantis Ballroom, which is supposed to be a tough place to shoot). He’s also cleaned up his form. He’s not thinking about it as much, you can tell. No more hitches at the top like last year. He’s always had good form, but now he’s got confidence and he’s just letting it fly without focusing on mechanics. That’s a sign of a ton of offseason work and a coach that has given you the green light. Morsell knocking down open 3s is huge. Pairing him with 2 guards who defenders need to focus on is going to leave him open. He’s now taking advantage. (Note that Morsell was a 4-star recruit who started day 1 at UVA. He was known for his offense in HS, so him finding his offense isn’t too hard to believe.)
– Terquavion Smith is still settling into his new role. Last year Smith and Seabron was all NC State had. He could have a one-track mind on scoring. I don’t think people give enough credit to point guards. When you play basketball, most of the time you have a defined role. Just score. Or just rebound and score. There isn’t that many decisions to make. Open? Shoot. Guarded? Pass. But a PG or someone looking to get his teammates involved has way more going on in their head. Open? Shoot? How open? Could we get a better shot? Is anyone open? Should I slow it down? What’s the situation, pace, who is hot? Do they need me to score?
Bring able to turn that on and off is something only the most elite PGs in the world can do at a high level. Now, Terquavion Smith is being asked to add some of that to his game and as good as he is, it’s a transition. This is the first time in his life he’s not just a scorer. Sure, there were times when double teams came, that he’d dish off for a bucket, but setting guys up and making these split-second decisions every time down the floor is a process. What you’re seeing is Smith getting used to that process. He’s actually putting up great overall numbers. He’s averaging 16.1 points, leading the team with 5 .3 assists per game and grabbing 3 boards per game. He’s hitting 39% of his shots, which is where he was at last season, but he’s only hitting 33% for his 3s, down from 37%, but his assists are up from 2.1 to 5.3. His turnovers are also up from 1.7 last year to 3.1 this year.
So what do you make of this? Well, Smith is going to start hitting more 3s eventually, but his FG% is on par with last year. His assists are way up, and in comparison, Markell Johnson, NC State’s 3rd overall in career assists averaged 5.1 assists per game for his career and 2.45 turnovers per game. If Smith can knock down a few more threes and clean up a few turnovers, then he’ll be an elite scorer who is creating opportunities for his teammates at the pace of some of the best PGs in NC State history.
– Greg Gantt finally got some significant run and looked pretty darn good. He got 9 minutes in this one and looks like he’ll really provide some value on the boards. He’s physical has a high motor and reall was active on defense. He’s pretty thick and strong, so he might start eating into Ernest Ross’s minutes here soon. Ross has been given a lot of opportunities, but he hasn’t shown much just yet. Gantt hit a long 2 (initially ruled a 3) but also airballed a floater. I think it will be a few games before we see what Gantt brings to the table offensively, but he’s already proving he can give Keatts some good minutes on defense.
Kevin Keatts Postgame Press Conference After William & Mary Victory: BULLETED
NC State Men’s Basketball head coach Kevin Keatts met with the media tonight after the Wolfpack’s 85-64 victory over William & Mary 85-64. You can watch it here, or check out a BULLETED breakdown below.
- We did some really good things.
- What I’m really proud of is 18 assists on 31 made field goals.
- Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner are really playing unselfish basketball.
- When you look at the 2 of those guys, they had 13 assists, and I think this was a career high for Terquavion.
- He sacrificed a little bit in scoring, but what’s happening in front of us is that we’re starting to see a little bit more of a complete player.
- Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner are really playing unselfish basketball.
- Our energy was good once we got going.
- Our bench was incredible.
- Some guys came in and did a really good job.
- It was a good win, and we move on.
- What I’m really proud of is 18 assists on 31 made field goals.
- The way I look at it right now, I’ve got 6 starters.
- For this game, I wanted to go with DJ Burns over Dusan Mahorcic, and both of those guys are going to end up playing half the game anyway.
- It’s just a matter of who starts and who I sub first.
- I’m getting away from all the superstitious stuff.
- It’s the reality of it [not being in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge]. Someone’s not going to be in it. We’re just not in it, and it didn’t bother me at all.
- I’m rooting for our conference to do well, and I can’t wait to get out of here and check the scores.
- I know we started off 2-0.
- I don’t know who won today, but I will watch some of the games.
- It’s not about that. When you’re playing against another conference, all your excitement is just for our other teams to do well.
- [How they would have done if they were in it this year] Well, I will say this…since I’ve been here, we’ve been fortunate enough to be 3-1 in the Challenge, but we won’t know.
- We’re not in it. I’m rooting for every ACC team in the next 2 or 3 days.
- We’re doing some good things. Do I think we still have a long way to go in certain areas? Absolutely.
- It’s early. It’s a little bit early for a conference game, but the reality of it is that we have to play on Friday.
- We’ve grown in the last 2 or 3 weeks. We’ve gotten better.
- The Bahamas helped us, playing 3 really good teams back-to-back.
- I like some of the things we’re doing.
- We’re going to take the next couple of days to try to get better and get ready for Pitt.
- He’s [Casey Morsell] been working.
- I think it’s the 2nd time this year that he’s made 6 three-pointers, and you love to see a kid who puts in the work and works on those shots every day for it to go in.
- That’s added a really big dimension to our offense.
- I don’t think he ever thought he was a defensive guy.
- That’s probably why he’s here.
- He’s a great kid who works hard. He’s turning into a great 2-way player.
- I knew I was getting an energy guy [Dusan Mahorcic].
- He’s all about what NC State’s about. He’s a hard-head guy.
- He brings it every day. He’s the type of guy you cheer for.
- He’s going to get on the floor, he’s going to block a shot, and he’s going to jump up and down.
- He’s tailor-made for what our program’s about.
- If I were you, I wouldn’t challenge him on that [that Mahorcic describes his game as tough]. I don’t know if you’re ready for that.
Men’s Basketball: NC State 85 William & Mary 64: ACCDN Highlight Reel & Condensed Game
The NC State Men’s Basketball team defeated William & Mary 85-64 tonight, improving to 7-1. You can check out the Box Score here. Below is the ACC Digital Network’s Highlight Reel and Condensed Game.
Men’s Basketball: NC State 85 William & Mary 64: BOX SCORE
NC State improved to 7-1 tonight, defeating William & Mary 85-64. Below is the Box Score.
Casey Morsell continued shredding the net, with a team high 23 points. He shot 8-12 from the field and and absurd 6 of 9 from three.
Terquavion Smith had yet another poor shooting performance (3-11 FG), but finished 2nd on the team with 13 points, and had a team high 7 assists, with only 1 turnover. That ratio is a great improvement for Lil T.
Jack Clark was efficient, scoring 12 points on 5 0f 8 shooting from the field, and 2 of 4 from deep. He also had 6 rebounds and tied for the team high in steals, with 3.
Dusan Mahorcic continued to impress, chipping in 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting, and led the team with 9 boards.
Jarkel Joiner is good at basketball, filling the stat sheet with 11 points (5 of 11 FG), 4 rebounds, 6 assists (3 TO) and 3 steals.