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.
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.