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Our Take: Physical Wolfpack slays #21 Virginia Tech 104-78

NC State Basketball

Our Take: Physical Wolfpack slays #21 Virginia Tech 104-78

NC State put their foot on the throat of #21 Virginia Tech right out of the gate and didn’t take it off the entire game. When the buzzer sounded it was a 104-78 thrashing, advantage NC State. Here is our take on how it went down and what to take away from this huge win:

Dennis Smith Jr recorded NC State’s 2nd triple-double in school history

27 points, 11 boards, and 11 assists was the final line. That is amazing. What is even more amazing is that Smith did this in his first career ACC home game as a freshman. We’re trying to track down stats but we want to believe that this is the first time in the history of the NCAA that a freshman has opened home conference play with a triple-double.

The takeaway here is that Smith Jr. is elite. Simply put, he’s the player that you have always wanted to commit to NC State. He’s the guy you say “If we only could get X, we could turn this program around.” This is the guy that has that talent and so far he’s been able to put it on display. So, please don’t take this for granted folks. This is not a senior with years of experience putting it all together. This is a freshman who walked into this program and has taken the reigns. Respect that and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Ok, so let’s talk about how he did what he did. Smith Jr. is still figuring it out. Please understand that. He’s still figuring out what works at this level, and that is very scary seeing as he’s already recorded a triple-double against at top 25 team in ACC play.

What he is doing is coupling his elite quickness and athleticism with physicality. That is what was missing early this season. He was shying away from contact and was not able to get where he wanted on the court, when he wanted. Now, that has changed. He is punishing his man with a quick first step and then inviting contact on the drive. This is a deadly combination for a point guard with quicks like Smith. This allows him to get in the lane and create havoc. It would be one thing if he was justing getting in the lane to score, but he’s not. He’s getting in there and making plays. He’s kicking it out, tossing it up and if given the lane, throwing it down.

You want to know another scary thing? Smith didn’t shoot well last night. Sure, the numbers say he 9-16, which is great, but he didn’t hit a shot outside of 15 feet, and he is more than capable of doing that. That means that on a night that he wasn’t really on, Dennis Smith Jr. logged a triple-double. Let that sink in.

The return of Abdul-Malik Abu
Sometimes we get too caught up in talking about Smith or Yurtseven, or Henderson or Dorn, that we forget to really examine what Abu has been doing over the past few weeks. This guy has found his aggression again. He is playing like an animal on the blocks, and to be honest, there hasn’t been anyone as consistent as Abu over the past 3 games. This kid is one rebound shy of having a double-double in each game over that span.

Something clicked, or he decided to flip a switch because lately Abu has been playing like a man possessed. He attacking the rim with so much assurance and authority that he is hard to stop. He’s also shooting it well, but right now teams are guarding him tight since he had been hesitant to drive early this season. Now, he’s flipped the script and he’s playing with aggression, and with reckless abandon and that is exactly what this NC State team needs right now.

Abu finished with 20 points and 11 boards on 9-9 shooting. Now, most of those were dunks, but that’s no knock because he’s dunking from where most guys have to pull up from. His elite athleticism is showing now that NC State has guards who need to be pressed up on, and a big who can stretch the defense. All of the sudden Abu is coming of age, and man is it fun to watch.

Terry Henderson, the quiet assassin, drops 22 in the win
Dennis Smith this, Dennis Smith that. Look, you already know what we think of Smith, we’re not going to knock all the type he’s getting (he deserves it), however, it seems as if fans and opposing teams forget just how important Terry Henderson is. Just look at this game. Henderson was a huge reason NC State won by as much as they did. He was the one who broke their back early. He is the one who nailed the coffin, cut the throat, stole V.Tech’s will. Every time the Hokies made a run in the first half, Henderson hit a shot or got to the foul line. He finished this one with 22 points on 7-13 shooting, but also went 4-8 from 3pt range.

People need to understand, that within Terry Henderson is a killer’s mindset, an assassin. Someone who wants to put his opponent away. He’s not here for flash or to get on any highlight reel. Henderson is a scorer with hunger to win. On most teams, that is enough to be the star player, the guy who gets all the headlines. This year, you have Dennis Smith getting those headlines, and I don’t think Henderson cares. So while others may soak up the coverage, Henderson is going to keep doing what he’s doing and playing a massive role in making sure this team if focused on their desire to win.

Physicality, physicality, physicality!
If you read our site regularly, then you know we constantly talk about how physical NC State looks and how that factor is so important. Thre reason we are so focused on this one aspect of the game is because it’s one that is often overlooked, yet a trait that every elite team has. You can’t always control whether you are on or off shooting the basketball, but you can control how physical you play. It is a ‘want-to’ attribute. A passion attribute. Outer evidence of what is going on within.

NC State, right out of the gate made it very clear that they were going to play physical. You could tell the way they set their screens in their very first set, and the way that Abu fought and brought down his very first rebound. There was an anger and aggression in their body language from the very first tip. Now, if you could replicate that type of mindset, and that type of passion each time you hit the floor, then you’d be watching a top 10 team. There is no doubt that NC State has the pieces to be that good. They showed it last night against the Hokies.

Rewatch the game and focus on this. Watch how Smith, Henderson and Abu didn’t dance around with the ball and let their man dictate where they were going to go. When they wanted to go to the rim, they went to the rim. They attacked their man’s shoulder and went through him. They didn’t try to slither through and lay it in without contact, they leaned in and demanded contact.

If you want to figure out why NC State won the way they did last night, it’s not because Dennis Smith Jr. had a triple-double (that helped), or that they shot 70% in the first half (that helped too). It’s because they punked the Hokies. They hit them in the mouth, put their foot on their throat and never let them up. It was the straight up fact that NC State was bigger, stronger and more physical than them and the Pack made certain everyone knew it. They weren’t there to win last night, they played the game to decimate the Hokies, not just on the scoreboard, but mentally and physically. They did that last night, and if they can continue to play with that mindset day in and day out, and take on the persona of not a fast, athletic team, but a rough, physical, blue-collar team, then watch out ACC because NC State is about to be dangerous.

Quick hits

• State shot 64% for the game. Insane!

• Don’t forget about Rowan. Mav is back and his 13 points, 4 assists, 3 boards, 3 steals prove it. Having a kid with this type of talent coming off your bench is a huge boost to this Wolfpack team. Remember, Mav is just a sophomore, who already is playing like an upper-classman.

• Go back and watch for the UCLA cut. NC State’s young guys are starting to see how to set it up and how to make it work. They got a few buckets off it on this night, but if you go back and watch for it, when they didn’t get a bucket off of it, they got something positive from it. Fouls, assists, etc. For those who have criticized Gottfried’s offense, I’d recommend rethinking. This offense takes learning and buy-in, but once you have that, watch out.

• Did Gottfried leave his guys on the court too long? We think so. This team has a ton of talent but losing anyone would hurt, especially when the game is well out of hand. On the other side of things, maybe Gottfried knows he needs some signature wins if he wants in the tournament and he also wants some confidence builders. Telling your team or a selection committee that you hung 104 points and beat the #21 team in the nation by 26 points says a little more than just “we won.”

• The defense was great. Much more position defense, much less gambling, and it really shows. Virginia Tech shot 43%, but that number is kind of inflated since the score was so lopsided and NC State wasn’t exatcly in shut down mode over the final 6 minutes. During the heat of battle however, the Hokies had a really tough time getting clean looks. Credit NC State and Gottfried for that.

• UNC is up next in Chapel Hill on Saturday at 8pm (ESPN). This might be why Gottfried did everything he could to use this game as a confidence builder. Smith staying in for the triple-double. His guys staying in to reach 100 pts. Gott knows that this is going to be a tough one, but getting his guys up for this game won’t be hard. What will be tricky is getting them to come out poised and focused, executing to precision like they did in this one. is an independently run content site that exclusively covers NC State basketball and football. Started in late 2007 by two former students with the goal of integrating the latest in web content delivery into a Wolfpack sports site, free of charge to the user.



  1. Wolfer96

    January 5, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    It all started with Terry. When he’s scoring like that it makes the game easy. Even when VT made some runs the Pack was able to answer to keep that margin around 20 all 2nd half. If this team played this way the rest of the season they might as well just hand the trophy to them now. Sadly, the next game is a road game.

  2. Wolfer96

    January 5, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    The key to Abu playing well is getting the ball to him in space. He’s not a post up guy or create a shot off the dribble guy. He’s a guy that needs to roam that area between the goal to just inside the FT line. In particular when he roams that area opposite the side the action is on, he usually gets the ball with his defender cheating. That gives him the no dribble step he needs to explode.

    • rizdolla

      January 6, 2017 at 1:36 am

      Yea.. I am with you on that.. He can keep that in his game keep that mid range jumper consistent, and over time maybe the summer even to work on the post with his back to the basket it will take his game to another level. He has to get that footwork and hands together. But he will be straight by his Senior year.

      • rizdolla

        January 6, 2017 at 1:45 am

        Actually I think Abu hands was better last game than previous games. Abu can be just as good or better than Julius Randle. He just has to keep expanding that game. He is almost there. By his Senior year he can be 1st round, NBA ready. T. Henderson Raleigh whats up hometown right there. I know he is a top guard in the league not ACC but the NCAA. We still coming to form #GETEMRIGHTGOTT!!!

        • Wolfer96

          January 6, 2017 at 1:58 am

          I still have no trust in his butterfingers. I think last game he didn’t really put the ball on the court which helped a lot. If you saw the game he basically took a no dribble step towards the basket on most of his dunks. Eliminating the chance that he would lose the ball off the dribble,

          • rizdolla

            January 6, 2017 at 3:50 am

            Nothing wrong with that for a big man.. 0,1 or 2 dribbles… after that pass it out if you cant get the bucket..

          • rizdolla

            January 6, 2017 at 3:59 am

            I saw the game he had to positions where he put it on the floor and drove to the basket (Abu)

          • rizdolla

            January 6, 2017 at 4:00 am

            My bad two (2) positions. corrections above.

          • Wolfer96

            January 6, 2017 at 6:26 am

            Abu has a few weaknesses which he’ll have to address to get to the next level. He can’t catch a pass in traffic, he’s not strong with the ball so he turns it over a lot, and he does not have a go to post move or consistent jump shot. Also he is not a good passer from the post. He could take some lessons from Yurt7 there. He’s got a lot of work to do in the summer.

          • Wolfer96

            January 6, 2017 at 6:32 am

            If the NBA draft was today my guess would be that he does not get drafted. I felt the same about Cat Barber. Cat was a scoring guard without next level size or athleticism. TJ was the only one recently that I knew for sure would go 1st round.

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