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OUR TAKE: On NC State’s disappointing 75-65 loss to UNC



What did we just watch?

As someone who is a big-time believer in Keatts and his style of basketball, this one was just disappointing.

The Pack came out guns blazing, jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead over UNC and it looked like the Heels were simply going to be out-physicalled and out-talented by the Pack. But after the Heels hit a few jumpers, the opposite happened. NC State seemingly lost interest in the game.

Where are the seniors?
Markell Johnson was in ‘float-mode’ again. This is what I call it when he just glides around the court without being in any sort of attack mode. He gets loose with the basketball, doesn’t take contact well, and looks hesitant on whether he should be shooting it or passing it. Markell finished with 12 points (on 6-19 shooting, 0-5 from 3pt range), 4 turnovers, 6 assists and less than stellar defense.

Don’t get me wrong, when Johnson is locked in, he’s one of the best players in the ACC. There are times when he’s very north-south with the basketball, very decisive, inviting contact and fighting through it. But those occasions seem to become rarer as the season wears on. As a senior, you need to have honed your consistency and effort-levels. Markell has not, and NC State is suffering because of that.

And what is going on with CJ Bryce? Is this a post-concussion hangover? You have to think that’s the case. His first game back against Clemson, he shot the ball and rebounded well, but he was extremely sloppy with the ball, leading to 4 turnovers. But you couldn’t blame him after missing so many games. Then against Virginia, he cleaned . up those turnovers, didn’t shoot it particularly well, but did hit one of the biggest jumpers of the game to secure the win. However, these last two games, it’s easy to see something is wrong. CJ, the toughest, most physical player on the floor, looks soft. He’s playing loose with the basketball, his shot is off, and his confidence seems completely lost. NC State’s leading scorer coming into this game hasn’t scored a single point in the last 2 games. If they’re going to turn things around, this has got to change.

Funderburk, Hellems and Daniels came ready
These were the three guys that really showed up against the Heels. Funderburk should have been the focal point of the offense for the Wolfpack, and really needs to be going forward if Markell and Bryce don’t get their act together. He’s been the most consistent player for the Pack all season and he was almost unguardable in the post last night. He finished with 18 points on 7-9 shooting (his only misses were a 3 from the corner and long jumper from the baseline). 8 boards, 2 steals and ZERO turnovers. Not force-feeding Funderburk was a mistake.

Jericole Hellems carried the Pack early with 5 points out of the gate, but foul trouble forced him out of the game. Part of that was because he was being forced to guard Garrison Brooks, which was a problem State was going to have regardless, with Bates just returning from concussion-protocol. While Hellems really didn’t do much after that initial burst, he did play with energy and played with the type of physicality required against Carolina.

Devon Daniels has earned his playing time this season. The Utah transfer has gone from a guy who really wasn’t playing within the flow of the offense, to a key piece of this team. His physicality on the defensive end and constant energy have been welcomed on a team that just doesn’t have enough toughness right now. When State’s defense is clicking, Daniels and Bryce are the two guys really muscling up on the perimeter and stopping drives to the hoops. With Bryce’s physicality missing lately, Daniels has been the only stopper Keatts can count on. And it’s not only on the defensive end. DD is increasing efficiency offensively. He still does need to clean up some of the off-balance shots he takes, he’s at least kind of earning them by being one of the only guys playing with the type of toughness required in this conference. He finished with 17 points (8-17), 6 boards and led the team with 3 steals.

The defense was BAD
This NC State team is so frustrating because they are so inconsistent. There are times when their halfcourt defense looks amazing. Teams have no driving lanes, the paint gets shut-off and the rebounding is great. Then there are times when it looks soft and porous, like last night.

Keatts instructs his guys to switch 1-5. Meaning if you get screened, you switch. That’s fine, but you have to understand that when you do that it’s easy for the screener to slip that screen. Obviously the players are aware of this, but last night they couldn’t stop it. Time after time, UNC, a team that struggles to shoot the ball were allowed to go off a ball screen and slip a pass into the screener who slips to the basket. At some point, you have to adjust. If you aren’t able to cut that pass off, you need to just allow your guard to go underneath. Force the Heels to shoot it. I mean, that’s the scout on them. They are THE worst shooting UNC team in modern history, and while they did hit more than usual last night, State should have lived and died by allowing them to take those long-range shots. Instead, they were picked apart by decent passing and punished in the paint by a group of mediocre bigs (yes, I’m calling Garrison Brooks mediocre)

Where to go from here?
Good question. I guess first you need to identify the problem. From the outside, it looks like something going on with this team internally. They aren’t playing as a unit, they don’t look bought in and they certainly don’t look focused. Secondly, you’re going to need Johnson and Bryce to get their act together going forward. These are big asks and if Keatts really is who he says he is, then he can right this ship. But right now, things aren’t looking good for the Wolfpack.

NC State Basketball

OUR TAKE: NC State’s season still alive after 88-66 upset over #6 Duke



A few days later and this game is still fresh in the mind of Pack fans.

This game really was a must-win for NC State and it showed. It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season that honestly had started to get a bit perplexing.The roster is just too good to be sitting in the middle of the pack of an ACC that isn’t at full strength. With a senior point guard (Johnson), a senior forward (Bryce) and an emerging star in the font court (Funderburk), you’d think NC State would be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. However, in true NC State fashion here we are in February facing an uphill climb to make the dance.

After the Boston College game, most NC State fans were down. It seemed as though with the Pack falling towards the middle of the standings and #6 Duke coming in, followed by #8 FSU, the odds of a late-season run were diminishing. However, if you’ve followed NC State long enough, you knew something that no data or no basketball analyst could predict. You knew NC State was going to win this game. You knew that it’s only when all hope is seemingly lost, does NC State rise from the ashes and do the unthinkable.

The Wolfpack came out against Duke as confident as we’ve seen all year. There was zero fear. They played as if their season depended on this game,..and it really did. They were physical, they were hungry, and they looked like the top-10 team, not the #6 ranked Blue Devils. So what happened? What was the difference? Who was this team?

Markell Johnson decided to dominate
The keyword there is ‘decided.’ There was no luck involved in Markell’s 28 point, 9 rebound, 4 assist effort. That was Markell simply being locked in, playing without fear and dominating a basketball game. I won’t lie and say I know what’s been going on in Johnson’s head this season. He has had moments, but hasn’t really captured that form he showed at the end of games last season. Against Duke, he finally did and he sustained it for an entire game. Whatever Keatts told him, whatever pre-game ritual he did or motivation he used to get up for this game, I hope it’s repeatable. With Markell playing at that level, NC State is not only a tournament team, but they are a tough out for ANY (yes, ANY) team in the nation.

Funderburk’s versatility is a problem
Funderburk’s 21 points was a season-high in conference play. His 15 shots was also a season-high. See the correlation? DJ Funderburk is one of NC State’s best players and he needs to get shots if they are going to win. He was matched up against one of the best frontcourts in the country and he did work. He had 9 rebounds, 4 of which were offensive and also pitched in 3 steals and a 3 pointer. This guy is a stud and the faster his teammates realize he needs his touches, the faster the Wolfpack will be able to reach their full offensive potential.

Devon Daniels set the tone.
Say what you want about Daniels, the guy has been the most consistent energy guy on this team for the past month. Yes he takes some crazy floaters, and sometimes forces shots you’d rather see go to Markell or DJ, but maybe just maybe he’s starting to come into his own. Daniels was a good scorer coming out of high school and showed a lot of flashes at Utah as a freshman. But since coming to NC State he has struggled to find his role. That’s no longer the case. He came out of the gate hot against Duke and put pressure on them from the get-go. It helped that his floaters and running layups were falling, but you can credit that to his focus. He too was locked in for this game. He finished with 25 points and 9 rebounds and it seemed like Duke wanted no part in getting in front of him. Daniels is strong, physical and cocky on the court. While it may have taken him some time to learn to play within this system, he might actually be the one starting to give this Wolfpack team an identity.

Less 3s, more attacking
In Keatts presser, he said he challenged his team to attack more and settle for 3s less. The outcome was State only taking 13 3s and hitting 8 of them. That is who this team needs to be. Markell, Bryce, Daniels, Hellems, and Funderburk are all good shooters, but none are great 3 point shooters. Beverly could be a great shooter, but he’s struggled the past 2 seasons to find his stroke. With this being the case, you need your team to make their money attacking the basket. This team has floated around and settled for a lot of lazy 3s. Keatts may finally be putting his foot down and making them play to their strength. It worked well against Duke, let’s see if they can keep focused and apply that type of attack vs FSU.

A huge win
This win wasn’t just big, it was huge. NC State needed this for so many reasons. Had they lost, the season was probably over (in terms of NCAA chances). They would limp into a game against FSU with no clear path to the tournament other than a big ACC Tourny run. Instead, they have knocked off the #6 team in the nation by 22 points. I outright slaughtering. Now, with confidence riding high, they welcome #8 FSU to Raleigh on Saturday. Back to back wins over Top-10 teams would put NC State in a position to get into the NCAA Tournament without being on the bubble.

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NC State Basketball

PRESS CONFERENCE: Kevin Keatts talks after win over Duke



Kevin Keatts talks about his team’s win over #6 ranked Duke. He applauded the energy of his entire team, but specifically the play of Devon Daniels, Markell Johnson, and DJ Funderburk. See the full comments above.

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NC State Basketball

Game Preview: NC State faces a must win vs. #6 Duke



NC State Wolfpack Vs. #6 Duke Blue Devils
9pm (2/19)
Raleigh, NC
Line: Duke -5.5

If NC State wants to play in the NCAA Tournament their ticket will be either punched or ruined in the next four days. With #6 Duke and #8 FSU coming to Raleigh, After devastating losses to Georgia Tech (twice), UNC and now Boston College, the Wolfpack has their share of bad losses. Now they need to start stacking up some good wins. That starts tonight vs. Duke.

Duke has won 7 in a row. NC State has lost 4 of their last 6. Momentum is with Duke, but NC State is playing for their life. Will that make a difference?

What you’ll need to see for NC State to win

– NC State will need to shoot the ball well. The Pack shot an embarrassing 10% from 3pt range against Boston College. If they want to beat Duke they’ll need to sit at over 40%.

– They will have to play GREAT interior defense and out-rebound Duke. Manny Bates and Funderburk have been bright spots, but against Duke these guys will need to bring their A games. Vernon Carey Jr is a monster inside. Stopping him could throw Duke off kilter. However, many teams have tried and few have succeeded.

– They need Markell to hit shots. In a perfect world, Markell Johnson would be slicing and dicing up defenses, getting in the lane and creating havoc for opposing defenses. He’d be picking his spots to score, knocking down 3’s and making the defense pick their poison. Instead, Markell has looked a bit lost. At times he’s been timid. Scared to shoot. Scared to turn the ball over. Unsure of when to turn on ‘score mode.’ What NC State is a confident, assured Markell. One that understands that this team is going to live by him and die by him. No use in playing it safe. Without a dominant Markell Johnson, NC State isn’t going anywhere.

And really, is it even fair to ask more or Markell? If NC State is going to make noise in the NCAA the answer has to be yes, but his shooting sruggles have dampened what actually has been a pretty good season for him. His shooting percentages are down across the board, but he is averaging a career-high (tied) 12.6 ppg, career-high 6.5 assists per game, a career-high 4.5 rebounds, and a career-high 1.9 steals per game. Aside from shooting, this is the senior’s best season of his career offensively. Fix the shooting and you fix NC State? Possibly yes.

By the numbers…

Duke; 83
NC State: 74.3

FG %
Duke; 48.4
NC State: 44.7

Duke; 35.5
NC State: 31.7

Duke; 39.8
NC State: 35.8

Duke; 16.3
NC State: 13.4

Duke: 13.5
NC State: 12

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NC State Basketball

FULL HIGHLIGHTS: NC State takes down Syracuse 79-74



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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