Wow, what a difference a couple of weeks makes. Or, more like, what a difference a shift in the lineup makes.
Kevin Keatts was forced to finally. throw his freshmen into the fire, and man has he been rewarded. It took a little while for these guys to get used to the speed and physicality of the ACC, but if last night didn’t convince you. that they’ve acclimated to the league, I’m not sure what will.
This was the 3rd win in a row for this group, a hot streak that couldn’t have come at a better time. With the season hanging in the balance, coming off an embarrassing loss to Duke, and learning they’d be without starting guard Thomas Allen for a while (after losing senior leader Devon Daniels for the season), this team had two choices. Pack it in, use the injury excuse and the COVID excuse, or dig deep, grow. up fast and give this thing one more run.
Seems like they chose the latter.
Here is our take on NC State’s upset over #15 Virginia:
Defense, baby. Defense.
That’s the name of the game if you want to beat Virginia. You know it won’t be a shootout. It’s going to be a long, slow, physical slog. It’s going to be a game of maximizing possessions, limiting turnovers, and most of all, gritty, locked-in, full-possession defensive stops.
Last night, NC State’s defense won that basketball game. We’ll get into who played well in a second, but first, we need to talk about the lineup. Hayes, Seabron, Hellems, Funderburk, and Bates started the game, and this lineup gave Virginia fits. It was one of the rare times that a team was longer and more athletic than them at every position. Houser was forced to rush shots. Beekman and Murphy disappeared when they were seeing a 6’7 guy closing out on them every time. And the Kihei Clark doesn’t look like such a disruptor when he’s guarded by a 6’4 guy or being hassled by a PG just as quick (and more physical) than he is.
You saw it and I saw it, NC State’s length, physicality, and defensive intensity made #15 Virginia look pedestrian. And the scary part is, they can do that every night if this lineup comes with the type of focus and tenacity. This was no anomaly. The truth is, this new-look Wolfpack team can go up against any team in the nation with that type of size and athleticism.
Go knock on wood if you need to. I don’t care. Someone needs to say it.
Now for the numbers that back that statement up:
Virginia was held to just 28% from the 3pt arc. It was the most uncomfortable I’ve seen them on offense. They were hesitant, flustered and, looked downright lost because NC State’s defensive rotation was so quick and the closeouts were always coming, and coming from guys 6’4 and taller. Sure, they missed a few open ones they should have made, but for the most part, nothing came easy for the Cavs.
Virginia shot just 37% from the floor overall, and they mostly became one-dimensional, relying on Huff shooting over Bates or cleaning up a putback. As good as Huff is, that’s no winning strategy.
NC State also won the battle of the boards 31-30.
Shot selection and limiting Turnovers
The last two things a young team masters are how to protect the basketball and learning ‘What is a good shot?’
Last night you have to give major credit to the Pack guards. They did not force the issue. They took their time, they protected the basketball and they followed their game plan.
For the first time all season, I felt like they really got ample touches to their bigs. This forced Virginia to double down, and it left the Wolfpack shooters open. They did a great job of playing inside-out and really forcing Virginia’s defense to always be shifting and rotating, putting them on their heels most of the night.
Playing this style of unselfish basketball, State was mostly able to get great looks. That led to 45.5% shooting from the floor and a stellar 41.7% from 3 point range. It also led to State outscoring UVA in the paint 30-16.
At the same time, they only turned the ball over 9 times against UVA, with freshman Cam Hayes not turning it over a single time all night.
Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore have taken over the PG duties
These guys were great in this one. Hayes led all scorers with 16 points on 3-5 shooting and was 3-4 from 3pt range. He didn’t force anything, didn’t turn the ball over, and hit the shots the defense gave him. He even knocked down free throws with the game on the line, going 7-8 from the stripe. That’s a tall task for a freshman playing against a Top-15 team, but Hayes looked like a savvy vet in this one.
Meanwhile, Moore was a problem all night for Kihei Clark. Whenever he was isolated at the top he took it right at the 5’9 junior. His blend of physicality, athleticism, and elite body control lets Moore play a lot bigger than he really is. His hesitation dribble is simply unfair, as he explodes out of it and is near the rim before his defender can regroup and challenge the shot. When the Wolfpack offense seemed to be breaking down, it was Shak who bailed them out. He finished with 12 points, 4 boards, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers in this one.
Bates quietly filled the stat sheet
Bates had a quiet night against UVA…or did he? Against one of the premier bigs in the conference, Bates held his own. Between Huff and Caffaro, Virginia runs out some physical 7 footers, and Bates didn’t back down one bit.
In fact, check the stat sheet, he filled it up. 8 points on 3-6 shooting, 3 boards, 3 assists and a block. He didn’t really do a lot of anything, but he did a little bit of everything.
Once again the veterans showed up, led by Funderburk
There are times when Funderburk struggles with bigger, more physical guys, but it seems as if lately he’s figuring out how to attack them. Instead of going back to the basket and backing down, or facing up and attacking, Funderburk seems to be trying to attack faster. As soon as he was getting the ball in the post last night, he was going up with it. There was no hesitation, no feeling the defender on his back for a second, just catch it and go to the rim. This seemed to take the Virginia bigs by surprise. It led to easy buckets and a few fouls.
Funderburk also did a great job on the screen and roll with Moore, seeing opportunities to dive down for quick baskets and even attacking off the dribble and hitting a little floater.
Now for Beverly. It’s easy to forget about the banged-up senior. He only had 5 points on 1-2 shooting. He had 1 assist one rebound and 2 steals, but the guy has been playing the best basketball we’ve seen him play in years.
I think part of Beverly’s resurgence is allowing him to play off the ball. With Hayes and Moore taking over the PG duties, Beverly is free to fade out for some open 3s, and lately, he’s been knocking them down.
Overall, this win was not just huge, it was necessary. Necessary for a group of freshmen looking for confirmation that this run isn’t just a flash in the pan, but it’s their arrival as the next leaders at NC State. Necessary for a team reinventing itself after losing its senior leader. Necessary for a team not giving up on their tournament dreams.