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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.

NC State Basketball

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

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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

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

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NC State Wolfpack Vs. #6 Duke Blue Devils
Time:
9pm (2/19)
Location: 
Raleigh, NC
TV: 
ESPN
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…

PPG
Duke; 83
NC State: 74.3

FG %
Duke; 48.4
NC State: 44.7

3-pt%
Duke; 35.5
NC State: 31.7

Rebounds
Duke; 39.8
NC State: 35.8

Assists:
Duke; 16.3
NC State: 13.4

Turnovers
Duke: 13.5
NC State: 12

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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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