With so much uncertainty surrounding who would be playing and who would be sitting, it was hard to get a read on this game. Vegas seemed to think it was going to close, making the Pack 2 point favorites. But most State fans seemed to think the game hinged on whether or not Funderburk suited up. It turned out, this Pack team was up for the challenge, even without their frontcourt leader.
Here is our take on the big win…
– Manny Bates continues to be the most important player on the court for NC State. Just one year ago, you really didn’t know what Bates was going to be. He was foul prone, skinny, and lackluster on offense. Sure, he could block shots, but was he ever going to become something more? Well, he’s answered that question loud and clear. Bates showed up with a new body, a new mindset, discipline to stay out of foul trouble, and an improving offensive game around the rim. Against UNC, he was at it again, dropping in 14 points, grabbing 7 boards, and swatting 5 shots. Most importantly though, Bates packed in the middle and made it extremely hard for Baycot and Brooks to get too many easy looks in the paint. Bates is the MVP of the season thus far and was one of the biggest reasons NC State won this basketball game.
– Devon Daniels is an absolute gamer. Look, we know we’ve been historically hard on Daniels over the years for some of his shot selection and his tendency to dominate the basketball from time to time, but without Daniels, this team isn’t winning many games. Devon Daniels is a future pro. basketball player and when he’s locked in he’s one of the best players in the ACC. Daniels was locked in vs. UNC and wasn’t going to be denied. He was slashing them up and finishing through contact at the rim. He also was hitting just about everything he shot. Daniels finished with a game-high 21 points, 5 boards, and 3 assists. When the Pack needed a bucket, he delivered. He was especially good midway through the second half when UNC had widdled it down to a 1 point deficit. Daniels went on his own 8 point run. When he was done, the Pack was back up 7 and UNC was back on the ropes.
– Welcome to the ACC, Shakeel Moore. The freshman guard, who came in averaging 5 points per game, turned in a career effort, dropping 17 points on 6-11 shooting and 3-4 from beyond the arc. Moore was amazing. So far he’s been mostly a factor on the defensive end, but last night we got to see what he’s capable of offensively. The little bulldog of a guard was physical on his drives, knocked down his open 3s, and absolutely hammered down a dunk through UNC’s trees. Moore is going to be a star at NC State, and last night he had his coming-out party.
– Jericole Hellems was a low key hero on defense. If you look at the box score, you’ll see that Hellems had one of his worst offensive games in his career. 0-8 from the field and 0-3 from beyond the arc. He finished with just 1 point. So, why is it that we believe he was a key to last night’s victory? Well, rewatch the game and key in on how NC State was able to stop the Heels from dominating inside. Without DJ Funderburk, it was just 6’10, Manny Bates, in the middle against Bacot and Brooks, both of whom are also 6’10. Who would help him stop the Pack from getting crushed in the paint? The answer ended up being Jericole Hellems. The 6’7 junior played amazing against the UNC bigs. He was active in denying the entry pass and he was physical in not letting them back him down and get easy buckets. The energy he put out on defense surely sapped his offensive performance, but we wanted to point out just how important he was last night on the defensive end. Without Hellems, Bates would have been in foul trouble and Garrison Brooks would have had a career night. Big props to Hellems for putting his head down and doing the dirty work that most casual fans aren’t going to appreciate.
– Keatts’ strategy to pack the middle won this game. Coming into the game, we knew UNC was going to try to jam it down the Pack’s throat. They did it twice last year, and it worked. You knew they were going to do it again this year and without Funderburk, it was easily their best bet. However, Keatts was ready. There were few guys that were going to challenge on shots from the outside. Other than that, he had his guys sink way down, placed Bates in the middle, and created a ton of congestion in the middle. This dared UNC to shoot it from outside. When those weren’t falling, Roy had them get back to their strength and dump it in the post. But with the paint clogged up, Garrison Brooks really had no room to work and took a bunch of forced and contested shots. If UNC was going to win this game, Keatts was going to make them win it from the perimeter. Fortunately for NC State, that bet paid off and the Heels looked lost trying to rely on their guards.
– Time to start relying on the youth? The one area of criticism we do have is that down the stretch, Keatts stuck with his vets a little more than we would have liked. With UNC desperate down the stretch, they started to press. With their length, the press was actually pretty effective in bothering Beverly (who can’t throw over the top of it). As good as Daniels is, he’s also not extremely reliable in the backcourt when pressure is coming from all sides. On the bench, Keatts had both Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore. Hayes is tall, has a great handle, and good vision. Moore is extremely quick and physical. These are two guys. we would have like to see get a look down the stretch when the Heels were pressing with desperation. Admittedly, Hayes was probably a bit winded after being off for over a week, but Moore, who had a career night, could have helped alleviate some of the ballhandling duties. Maybe, since we’re only a few games in, Keatts was going to live and die by his veterans. That’s understandable. However,r I think in just a few weeks you’ll see that tune change a little bit because these young guys are just that good.
Overall, this was a huge win for NC State. Not only does it open up the ACC season with a win, but it gives them a signature victory, and also a top 25 win within their first few weeks of a new season. This is huge because this team has a lot of young pieces that need to learn how to win and need to learn that they. can own this rivalry with the right approach.
They won this game without their best offensive frontcourt player and with limited minutes from the kid that is going to be their starting PG for most of this season. We all knew how good this Wolfpack team could actually be if they clicked, and now the rest of the ACC is starting to find that out.