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VIDEO: Markell Johnson Talks After NC State’s 78-71 Victory Over #7 Auburn

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Junior Point Guard Markell Johnson talked with the media after NC State’s 78-71 victory over #7 Auburn tonight. Johnson had a career high 27 points, and a career high 5 three pointers. The video is ABOVE, and a bulleted breakdown is BELOW.

  • On what was working for him when he scored 10 straight: Just confidence. Coach Keatts told us to get our swagger back, and to go back out there and play with confidence.
  • We just take the same approach into every game. I don’t know what it is, but you play harder against those kind of teams.
  • On the key to creating turnovers in the 1st half: Ball pressure. Not helping off strong. Getting over ball screens.
  • We let things slip away from us against Wisconsin. I think if we would have got that win, we would have built our character up a lot.

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FULL HIGHLIGHTS: NC State takes down Syracuse 79-74

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NC State moved to 16-8 and 7-6 in the conference (5th place) with last night’s road win over Syracuse. Check out the full condensed game here, thanks to ACCDN.


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IN-DEPTH PREVIEW: NC State needs a win at Syracuse tonight (7pm, ESPN2)

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NC State Wolfpack @ Syracuse Orange
Time: 7
pm (2/11)
Location:
Syracuse, NY
TV: 
ESPN2
Line: Syracuse -5.5

What to expect from Syracuse
In some ways, The Orange is a pretty predictable team, but in some ways, they have been a little streaky. Let me explain.

You know what Syracuse is going to do defensively. They are going to roll out a long lineup and play that extended 2-3 zone that has been the trademark of Jim Boeheim. Their starting lineup is all over 6’5 except freshman point guard Joseph Girard. As usual, they’re pretty long, but they’re really not as athletic as they have been in the past. With Girard, Buddy Boeheim and Marek Dolezaj in the lineup, they really will count on knocking down shots and winning the battle of the boards. That is, aside from counting on a big night form their super star Elijah Hughes. Hughes is a 6’6 junior forward who really does it all for the Orange. He’s averaging 19.4 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and shooting a very solid 42.4% from the floor. From beyond the arc, he’s just above average, knocking down 35.7%.

What to expect from NC State
The Pack is actually pretty bad against the zone, but the Syracuse zone might not bother them quite as much. The Pack is certainly more athletic than the Orange and I’d argue a lot more physical, but I think the question will be how far Syracuse extends their zone. They’d be making a big mistake to stretch it out like they normally like to do. They’ve always been ok letting that long 2 be a shot opponents can live and die on. However, that might not work against the Pack. CJ Bryce is one of the best in the conference at knocking down that free-throw line jumper and will most definitely be flashing to that spot all night long.

Matchup wise, I think NC State actually matches up real well against Syracuse. Funderburk and Bates are able to match up with Sidibe (6’10 Jr) and Dolezaj (6’10 Jr). Markell has the upper hand against freshman Joseph Girard. Daniels should be able to slow down 6’6 Buddy Boeheim and that leaves Bryce (6’5) matched up against the 6’6 Hughes.

I like all of those matchups for NC State, even Bryce vs Hughes. Hughes is a great scorer, but he’s a little soft and doesn’t like contact. He is a very good shooter, especially inside the arc, but he will be frustrated by long and physical defender like Bryce.

Recent Trends
Syracuse is not playing its best basketball as of late. After a 5 game winning streak (where they upset Virginia and then won 4 games they should have won) they went on to lose two in a row. First, a close one at Notre Dame and then they’re were blown out against Duke at home. While they did defeat last place Wake Forest last time out, it was a tight game that they only won by two.

Meanwhile, NC State won 3, then lost 3 and then most recently went down to Miami and won by 11. If you’re looking at who is trending, I’d probably give the nod to NC State. While their only sign of late-life has been a road win over a lowly Miami team, they do seem to be getting healthy and having all of their pieces back playing at a high level. Bryce had a good 2nd half against Louisville and a very good game at Miami, while Manny Bates finally got back in the mix and was a major factor on both ends of the floor against Miami.

By the numbers…

PPG
Syracuse; 74
NC State: 74.3

FG %
Syracuse; 43.8
NC State: 44.5

3-pt%
Syracuse; 34.7
NC State: 31.9

Rebounds
Syracuse; 35.8
NC State: 36

Assists:
Syracuse; 14.9
NC State: 13.3

Turnovers
Syracuse: 11.3
NC State: 11.5

 

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OUR TAKE: On NC State’s 83-72 win at Miami

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This one was a must-win for the Wolfpack.

After losing 3 in a row, NC State needed to find a way to stop the bleeding and they did just that on Wednesday night.

That’s the Markell we’re talking about
Over the past few games, we’ve been a bit critical of Markell. It’s not that he was playing awful, it’s just that NC State absolutely needs him on his ‘A’ game if they want to win, and Markell’s ‘A’ game makes him an elite talent.

Last night he finished with 19 points, 12 assists, and 5 rebounds ( 6-12 from the floor). This was one of his best performances of the season in our eyes. He was really attacking. He didn’t shy away from contact on the drive, he put pressure on the bigs to either come guard him on the drive or defend the pass.

The other thing that really stood out was a lot less predictable. He wasn’t toying with the ball at the top of the key, He was coming off the ball screen downhill, but he was also using a little hesitation when he got in the lane to keep defenders on their heels. This is where he really excels. This was allowing him to finish over bigs, or find open men. And for the first time this season, Markell did not attempt a 3 pointer. After shooting 40% from 3 over the past two seasons, Johnson is hitting only 25% of his 3s this season, but he’s taking a lot of them. Against Miami, he played to his strengths, became a distributor and scored when the lanes opened. This was vintage Markell and this is the guy that can lead State to the NCAA tournament.

CJ Bryce is the key
When CJ Bryce is right, NC State is right. Bryce is back to playing physical basketball, trusting his talents and knocking down shots. When NC State needed a bucket, it was Bryce who gave it to them. He finished with 22 points and 11 boards, but most importantly he was back to being the go-to scorer, allowing Markell to be a secondary option. This is when the Pack is at its best.

Devon Daniels provided a spark
Early on it looked like NC State was going to start sputtering again offensively, but Daniels hit three 3s in a short spurt and the Pack got rolling. Daniels has been a guy who has given Keatts a very physical, high energy player night in and night out. While you have to live with some wild shots and head-down one on one attacks, you also get spurts where Daniels looks like a real scorer. More often than not lately, Daniels has shown the latter. He finished with 14 points on the night, but gets a lot of credit for putting the team on his back early in this game. It’s what snapped them out of their funk.

Beverly is back
It finally looks like Braxton Beverly has found his shot. He went 4-7 from 3. In fact, he’s 7 for his last 12 over the past 3 games. He isn’t rushing it anymore and he isn’t drifting on his shot anymore. This is the Braxton Beverly we remember from his freshman year. The one that plays with a little more calm and poise, and delivers the big shots when you need him to. If Braxton is in fact back, then the Wolfpack could be ready to make a little run here late in conference play.

Defense looked alright but Bates looked great
I can’t say that the defense was great last night, but it was good. Miami was without Chris Lykes, who is great at breaking down a defense, but Miami has athletes and NC State locked down when they had to…espeically Manny Bates. This kid is going to be good and as we said earlier in the season, he covers up a lot of defensive flaws with his ability to guard the rim. With Funderburk sitting out most of last night with a head injury, Bates really filled in well and is even starting to show little flashes of an offensive game. He was 5-5 from the floor for 10 points, had 7 boards and added 4 blocks.

Next up….
State heads to Syracuse next Tuesday in another game that they really need. The Orange have been slipping a bit as of late, and with NC State starting to hit a little stride offensively, they may be rolling in at the right time. Cuse will, of course, be in their 2-3 extended zone, but the Pack is well equipped to attack it. With Bryce in the middle able to knock down the short jumper. Beverly finding his stroke from outside, and Markell creating havoc off the dribble, State could have a nice outing in Syracuse. After that it’s @BC and then it’s on to their toughest stretch of Duke, FSU, and UNC. Winning against Syracuse and BC would go a long way in helping them get back into the NCAA picture.

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OUR TAKE: On NC State’s 77-57 loss to #6 Louisville

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Another very up and down game for the Wolfpack. NC State did come out with decent energy early on and kept the game close for the first 14 minutes. However, by halftime, it was a 15 point game. NC State rallied back but never recaptured the lead and eventually ran out of gas, allowing Louisville to stretch the lead to 20 before the buzzer.

Scoring problems
NC State needs consistent scoring if they’re going to be competitive. This was another game where they just couldn’t get shots to go down. They finished shooting 33% from the floor and 22% from 3pt range. That’s just not good enough against a top ranked team.

The thing is, this team has a bunch of decent shooters. Markell, Bryce, Hellems, Beverly, Daniels. But none of those guys are dead-eye shooters. And when this is the case, you better have a team that’s really willing to move the ball around and get good clean shots. Problem is, this team doesn’t do that either.

What you end up having is decent shooters taking tough shots. That’s never going to work in the long run. So I’m not sure the answer here. I do know that Markell is a better shooter than he’s shown, Bryce is heating back up, but aside from those guys getting on track, I’m not sure. Beverly seems to be a completely different player than we saw in his freshman season, one that is a lot more out of control and playing at a speed he’s just not built to play out. He’s rushing and drifting on his 3s and he’s not the calm change of pace guy that I think this team really could benefit from. Then you have Hellems and Daniels who just both have very heavy touch from beyond the arc. I haven’t even mentioned Pat Andree who just looks lost in the ACC after coming in as a known sharpshooter.

The only real consistent threat offensively for this team has been DJ Funderburk, who even though he finished with 11 and 8 against Louisville, didn’t have his best game (finished 2-8 shooting).

NC State needs to be smarter and more consistent on offense or this season going to end up being a wash.

The curious case of Markell Johnson
Does Markell have it in him to change the course of this basketball team? The answer to that question is going to decide whether the Pack is an NCAA tournament team or finds themselves in the NIT.

Johnson’s tools are elite, but his decision making and poise have been one area that just haven’t been as consistent as you’d hope for the senior. There is way too much pounding of the basketball at the top of the key. Almost every possession for NC State starts with Markell going off a ball screen and teams are starting to hedge their big man hard at the top to cut off Johnson. This is working and really putting a halt on what NC State wants to be an fast-paced offense.

Johnson has to change the way he attacks this. When you have the speed, handles, and slipperiness that Markell possesses, you can’t allow the defense to push you into places you don’t want to go. Now, this isn’t always the case. When Johnson is playing well, he attacks this, but when he’s in one of his stretches where he’s fatigued or just going through the motions, he allows the hedging defender to steer him back out and pass out to the wing.

The pick and roll is the most unguardable play in basketball if you have a guard who can pass, shoot and drive, and a big who is athletic, has great footwork and soft touch. Markell and Funderburk are actually the perfect pick and roll tandem, but NC State is rarely getting anything out of the exchange. That has to change.

McMahon’s big night is unexcusable
Ryan Mcmahon had a career night against NC State. He went 7-10 from 3pt range and finished with 23 points. Sure, it’s reasonable to see why the Pack may not have had him as a high-priority guy to stop. He has been struggling from long range as of late and only had a total of 21 points over his last 5 games. But when a guy who has historically been a pretty darn good shooter, goes 3 for his first 3, you might want to lock down on him.

There’s not much to say here. NC State failed in recognizing this, even after it was too late. McMahon is only 6’0 tall, he’s not very athletic, he’s not any kind of special ball handler and he’s really not all that quick. A guy like this can be simply taken out of his comfort zone by guarding him with a little length. Somehow, the Pack never realized that. McMahon brutalized Braxton Beverly. Any time the two were matched up McMahon was firing over top, and hitting it. To me, this was the difference in the game.With Nwora struggling big time, NC State didn’t need to pinch in so much with McMahon’s guy, but they kept doing it, over and over and over again. Had the Pack even held him to his average, this one would have ended up going down to the wire.

CJ Bryce…is back? 
You can really see how important CJ Bryce is. The Bryce struggled to find his shot once again early in this game and NC State once again looked lost on offense. However, he finally heated up early in the 2nd half and really was the main reason for the surge that brought the Pack back within 4. State needs a go-to scorer besides Markell and Bryce is that guy. He led the team with 15 points and really was only locked in for the 2nd half. If they can get him back clicking on all cylinders then this team has a fighting chance.

Now or Never
We’re heading into the home stretch now and NC State sits at 5-6 in the conference. Now, they are only one win away from being tied in 4th place, but they’re also bunched in 5th with 5 teams. It’s a log jam right now, but in a week, things will start to really separate. NC State goes to Miami, a team they beat by 17 at home a few weeks ago. That is a MUST win. Then they need to either upset #9 Duke or #6 FSU (both home games). If they come out of this little stretch 2-1, they’ll be heading to UNC in a rematch that really should also be pretty winnable. But come out of that stretch 1-2 and you’d pretty much need to run the table going forward if you want a sure shot at an NCAA bid.

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