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.
• 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.
Kansas Transfer MJ Rice Makes Quite the Impression in his NC State Debut
We’ve seen a lot of new faces on the NC State Men’s Basketball team this season, but one face we haven’t seen yet is Kansas Transfer Guard/Forward M.J. Rice (6’5″/215)…until tonight.
Rice stepped away from the program for personal reasons earlier this Fall, and when he returned, he had a little catching up to do. It wasn’t until today during shoot around that Rice and Keatts both knew that tonight would be his debut.
“He’d been practicing for the last couple of weeks, and you know, I was just trying to figure out when he was ready. He and I, we talked a little bit after shoot around today and I said ‘MJ you ready to go tonight?'” said Kevin Keatts. “and he had this big huge smile on his face. He’s like ‘You sure you ready?’ He’s like ‘Ask me some plays.’ So he and I sit over there on the scores table at the Dale and we went over plays and I was like ‘You know what, you are ready to play.'”
Out of all the transfers Keatts brought in this offseason, Rice might have the highest ceiling. Rice was a 5-Star prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, and ON3 ranked him as the #24 overall prospect nationally. He committed to Kansas, where he played in 23 games for the Jayhawks as a Freshman in 2022, averaging 2.2 points in 7.6 minutes per game. Rice was a huge pickup in the Transfer Portal, ranked as the #2 player in the Portal, with three years of eligibility remaining.
Rice also isn’t new to the area either, playing high school ball at Durham Academy, before heading off to Oak Hill Academy and Prolific Prep.
In a short sample size, Rice gave us a glimpse of what the hype is all about tonight. He scored 11 points in 11 minutes of play, also grabbing 6 boards. Rice was 5-6 from the field, and hit the only three he took. In the most electrifying play of the night, Rice took it coast-to-coast, finishing with a soaring dunk.
“He gives us another dimension. We’ve been playing with six of our new dudes. Now we added the seventh and I’m happy for him. He’s going to help us. He’s going to be really good for us.” said Keatts. “I said this on the radio just now…we’ve got some older guys, but two really good young players in Dennis Parker Jr. and also MJ Rice. It was good for MJ to see the ball going in. I think he played 10 minutes had 11 points. He made a three. He had a big time dunk, so I was excited for him.”
“He gives us the ability to play a little bit more small ball. If we have to, we can play him and Dennis Parker both at the three and four. Really good defender at that position and can rebound the basketball,” said Keatts. “It’s going to take time. I’m trying to figure out how to kind of put him into the rotation, and now we’ve added another really good exciting piece to it, but it was good to have him back out there.”
Welcome to the Pack MJ! We’re glad you’ve arrived!
NC State 93 UMES 61: BOX SCORE
Pack Insider’s Highlight Reel of NC State’s Win Over BC
Ready to watch NC State’s Men’s Basketball team play in the ‘old barn’ tonight against Maryland Eastern-Shore? Well, until 7pm, go ahead and get yourself hype by watching Pack Insider’s Highlight Reel of the Wolfpack’s ACC opening win over BC this past Saturday. Check it out above.
NC State’s a 20+ Point Favorite Over Maryland Eastern-Shore
NC State (5-2) will host Maryland Eastern-Shore (2-5) in Reynolds Coliseum, and the Wolfpack are 24.5-point favorites, and the Total is 147.5.
- NC State is 3-4 Against the Spread.
- Maryland Eastern-Shore is 2-4.
- NC State is 3-0 at Home Straight Up.
- They are 2-1 Against the Spread at home.
- Maryland Eastern-Shore is 0-4 Straight Up on the road.
- Maryland Eastern Shore is 1-3 Against the Spread on the road.
- The Total has gone Over twice, Under twice, and pushed once in NC State’s 7 games.
- The Total has gone Over 4 times and Under 2 times in Maryland Eastern Shore’s 6 games that had spreads.