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.
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.