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OUR TAKE | On NC State’s 84-60 smackdown of #16 Duke

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After ACC losses to Pitt, Miami, and Clemson, NC State fans were getting pretty nervous about this season starting to look a lot like last season. Today, it’s a different story. A different feeling.

That’s because NC State didn’t just upset #16 Duke, they ran them out of the stadium, beating them by 24.

This win allows Wolfpack fans to step back from the ledge, and while doing so, they’ll be able to realize that those 3 early ACC losses were to the current top 3 teams in the ACC. Clemson and Pitt are both 4-0 in the conference, while #12 Miami was 4-0 before last night’s loss at Georgia Tech.

The Pack is now 2-3 with a matchup this Saturday against Virginia Tech who has lost 3 straight.

But let’s get our focus back on the Duke win. Did anyone see this coming? Should we have? And what changed?

Let’s take a closer look and find out…

Greg Gantt sparked the fire
With Jack Clark out, things looked bleak. Clark was averaging 9 points and 7 boards per game. He’s 8th in the ACC in rebounds and State was about to face off against the biggest front line in the ACC.

Keatts was forced to turn to Greg Gantt, the 6’8 Junior transfer who had only seen action in 4 games this season due to injury. But Gantt turned out to be exactly what the Wolfpack needed.

I mentioned in my ‘keys to the game‘ piece yesterday that NC State was missing a physicality and grit that had gone missing since Mahorcic went down with a knee injury. Last night Gantt brought it back and did so right from the tip. In fact, Gantt had NC State’s first 3 rebounds, their first block, and their first 2 points of the game.

He set the tone by using his strength and athleticism to really fluster Duke in the middle. Every time they thought they had a good look in the middle, Gantt came flying in to contest. His positioning and anticipation off the ball were also huge for NC State. Gantt showed what a force he can be as an interior defender. He’s quick, strong, athletic, and not afraid to throw his weight around.

Gantt’s stat line isn’t eye-popping. He finished with 4 points, 5 boards, 3 steals, 2 blocks and an assist in 30 minutes, but he made it clear right off the bat that the Pack wasn’t going to back down and that if Duke wanted to win they were going to have to get physical in the paint, something they weren’t expecting and something their group of freshmen didn’t seem capable or willing to do.

Shot selection was much better for the most part
The other key to the game I mentioned yesterday was NC State’s shot selection. Too many times they’d bail out defenses by chucking up a long 3, or a contested jumper. This was giving away vital possessions, and while Smith is able knock down some of those longer 3s, his percentage on them hasn’t been great. There were much better shots that the Pack could be getting by just working the ball around a little more and making the defense work.

Last night we saw a much more patient Wolfpack offense. Smith came out early and took a long 3, but Keatts pulled him and went with LJ Thomas for a short stretch. I’m not sure if Keatts was trying to reign in Smith taking him out early, but it seemed to work. Smith played within himself from then on and the rest was history.

This team doesn’t need to take wild shots. Both Joiner and Smith are capable of doing massive damage by attacking the rim and making the defense react. With Morsell shooting near 50% from long range, you have great kick-out options if you see everything start to collapse. Oh, and you also have one of the most efficient offensive bigs in the conference sitting on the block in DJ Burns.

Last night NC State looked unstoppable. They looked like they had weapons all over the place because they do. Last night they just played smart enough and unselfish enough to take advantage of that.

The NC State defense overwhelmed Duke
NC State forced 21 turnovers on the night, which really was the difference maker. Duke could never get anything going because the Pack continuously swarmed and rarely allowed an open look. This was one of those nights when that constant press, switch everything defense paid off.

I’ve been critical of this defensive strategy. Too many times NC State has given up easy buckets on the press or watched teams exploit mismatches created off screen-switches, but last night it was Duke’s Kryptonite.

This Duke team doesn’t have very good guards. Jeremy Roach is solid, but not very athletic, Jaylen Blakes is just a sophomore and Tyrese Proctor is talented, but still just a freshman. NC State took advantage of all of these guys, speeding them up, getting them out of sync and encouraging them to force passes that aren’t there. Duke’s guards took the bait.

Roach was solid, but again, he’s not a game-changing guard. However, when the ball wasn’t in his hands it was Proctor and Blakes making bad decisions. They combined for 8 turnovers between them.

Then there were the bigs. The 7’1 freshman Derek Lively and the 6’8 freshman Mitchell combined for just 7 points. They struggled with the constant screen switches that didn’t allow them open lanes and a lot of times put a smaller player on them. This had them constantly confused on how to attack and from where. They ended up only taking 7 total shots in this game.

Duke’s star freshman, Kyle Filipowski is a 7-footer averaging 13.8 points and 8.6 boards. His versatility was supposed to bother DJ Burns, forcing him to come out to the perimeter where he could shoot over him or blow by him.

Neither happened. Keatts took a gamble and started Dowuona against Filipowski. Dowuona was able to guard him well enough on the perimeter and just allowed him to get his in the paint. Filipowski and Young (both centers) were the only ones really able to get anything going, but were still flustered by NC State’s swaming defense.

This defensive system eats bad guards and inexperienced players alive. Duke doesn’t have great guards and they have a ton of inexperience. This was a good matchup for NC State, but to me, I’m still not sold that this type of defense is what you want to roll out against every opponent.

The NC State guards killed Duke
When Smith and Joiner are playing the way they played, NC State is hard to beat. Smith played probably his best game of the season here. He didn’t force too many shots, he took what the defense gave him, but he constantly put pressure on Duke. He also shot 8-19 and 4-8 from 3, thanks to a much better selection of shots.

Meanwhile, when Smith wasn’t going off, Joiner picked up the slack. He too was hunting his shot in this one, which was a good sight to see. He finished 8-18 on the night and 5-10 from 3. He also dished out 9 assists and didnt turn the ball over once. With Joiner playing like this, Smith can get back to his comfort zone of focusing on bucket-getting.

DJ Burns, the closer
I’m going to bring up my “keys to the game” piece once again. This time focusing on my rant about situational strategy (which was connected to my rant about shot selection). When NC State gets big leads, it’s not time for jacking up 3s in transition. It’s not time to get loose with the basketball. It’s time to feed Burns.

They did that in this one. Down the stretch they cleared out the middle and just let Burns go to work. This led to State slowing the game down a bit, getting to the line more and securing the victory.

Now, Burns did a lot more than just close this game out. In fact, his 6-point flurry at the beginning of the game helped State build their massive lead. He finished with 18 points on 7-10 shooting and I felt was used really well in this game. Whenever NC State started going on a little drought or when their guards got winded, they just cleared out and let Burns do his thing. Having this option gives you team another dimension, and the fact that Burns was able to dominate a front line as big as Duke’s tells you that there aren’t many teams that are going to have an answer for this guy.

Time to give credit to Keatts
A lot of you hate this part. Those that blame Kevin Keatts for NC State’s shortcomings aren’t allowed to ignore giving him credit when you have a game like this.

He had his players ready. He started Dowuona which threw off Duke’s game plan early on. He played Gantt 3o minutes (although he kind of had to). He took out Smith early and calmed him down after he started freelancing a little too much. He featured Burns during big chunks of the game.

All of these things were good coaching moves. Keatts outcoached Jon Scheyer in this one, plain and simple.

Now the question is, can his team build off of this and replicate this level of play on Saturday? We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, enjoy what was one of the most fun NC State games we’ve gotten to witness in a long time.

A pasta eatin', Wolfpack lovin' loudmouth from Raleigh by way of New Jersey. Jimmy V and Chuck Amato fanboy. All opinions are my own and you're gonna hear'em.

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Rev
Rev
1 year ago

As one who was crushed after the Clemson loss, I am thrilled we beat Dook. The Pack has broken my heart so many times I am reluctant to get my hopes up, again. I was a strong supporter of this team the whole season (before Clemson). I don’t understand the inconsistency in performance. I hate that Mahorcic and now Clark cannot play. Those guys played their hearts out and were (are?) critical pieces of the puzzle. They deserve better. All you statisticians, is it just me, or has Keatts had more injured starters than other programs? I mean this $#it… Read more »

Dof87
Dof87
1 year ago

Gonna have to start winning on the road now.

Papajohn
Papajohn
1 year ago

Huge credit to two players none of us expected anything from, Gantt and Dowuona.
Gantt’s stats, noted in the article, weren’t really out of the ordinary until you consider that he’d never started here, and never played 30 minutes. If Clark is able to return this season, and Gantt can keep healthy, the PF position is unexpectedly really strong.
Dowuona played 24 minutes for the first time since last season. He was a defensive force.

Papajohn
Papajohn
1 year ago
Reply to  Papajohn

… continued …
Dowuona had 5 boards, 4 points (2-5), and a block while only picking up 2 fouls. Only two fouls allowed him to play hard and allowed DJ plenty of rest. And when DJ is rested, wow.
Game balls to those two guys.
And extra credit to LJ, he gave the guards all the rest they needed and played really well.

NC State Basketball

NC State’s DJ Horne Named to Portsmouth Invitational All-Tournament Team

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NC State’s DJ Horne played in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament this weekend, and he was named to the All-Tournament Team.

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In 3 games, Horne averaged 14.3 points, shooting 41.5% from the field, and 30% from three.

Horne’s Portsmouth Partnership team made it to the finals, but lost to Jani-King 68-75.

The Portsmouth Invitational is an annual pre-draft camp that has been showcasing College Seniors to professional scouts since 1953.

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NC State Basketball

NC State Has Shown Interest in Utah Guard Transfer Deivon Smith

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NC State has reached out to Utah Transfer Guard Deivon Smith (6’0″/173).

Smith filled up the stat sheet every game this year, averaging 13.3 points, 7.1 assists and 6.3 rebounds, shooting 46.7% from the field and 40.8% from three for Utah. He earned All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention this season. Smith had 8 double-doubles and 1 triple-double this year.

Wherever Smith lands, this will be his 4th college. He started at Mississippi St., starting in 8 of the 33 games he played in, averaging 22.5 minutes per game. Smith went on to spend his next two seasons at Georgia Tech. Year 1 in Atlanta, Smith started in 5 of the 24 games he played in, averaging 19.7 minutes per game. In Year 2, he carved out more of a role, starting in 13 of the 24 games he played in for the Yellow Jackets, averaging a career high 24.8 minutes per game.

At Utah this year, Smith broke out and had a career year in every possible way.

NC State is familiar with Smith, offering him back when he was a 4-Star prospect out of Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia. Rivals ranked Smith as the #53 overall player nationally in the 2020 recruiting class. ESPN ranked him as the #5 player in the state of Georgia. 247Sports ranked him as the #11 Point Guard in his class.

 

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NC State Baseball

NC State has Dominated UNC in Athletics in 2023-24

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After NC State clinched a series victory over UNC last night in Baseball, I thought it would be a good time to relish in how the Wolfpack has dominated the Tar Heels Athletic Program as a whole in 2023-24.

The Wolfpack Baseball team has won the first two games in the series against the Tar Heels, clinching a series victory over UNC for the first time since 2021. It marks the first time NC State has won a series against the Tar Heels in Raleigh since 2016.

NC State defeated UNC in Volleyball 3-1, winning in Chapel Hill for the first time in 25 years. The Tar Heels had won the last 5 matches against the Wolfpack.

The Wolfpack defeated the Tar Heels 39-20 in Football in Carter-Finley Stadium. It marked the 3rd consecutive win over UNC.

NC State lost both regular season games to UNC in Men’s Basketball, but when it mattered most, the Wolfpack defeated the Tar Heels in the ACC Championship Game 84-76, winning their first title since 1987.

The Wolfpack Women’s Basketball team lost to their rival in Chapel Hill, but defeated UNC 63-59 in Reynolds Coliseum. NC State has won 5 of the last 7 against UNC.

In Gymnastics, NC State defeated UNC 196.725-194.925 in Raleigh. This marked the 3rd straight victory for the Wolfpack over the Tar Heels.

NC State’s Men & Women’s Swimming & Diving teams both beat UNC. The Men won 258-93, and the Women won 196-157.

The Wolfpack Wrestling team defeated UNC 33-6 in Reynolds Coliseum. NC State has won 11 straight Duals against the Tar Heels.

The NC State Men’s Tennis team defeated UNC 4-0, winning against their rival in back-to-back years.

The Wolfpack Women’s Tennis team has defeated the Tar Heels 4-3 on two occasions thus far this season, and will face their rival again today.

The Cross Country teams didn’t have individual meets against UNC, but the Women obviously beat them, because they won the ACC Championship. The Men didn’t, finishing 8th in the Conference, with the Tar Heels finishing 1st.

The only other NC State athletic team that didn’t taste victory against UNC this year was the Women’s Soccer team, losing 0-4 in Raleigh.

Of course, each of these NC State athletic teams has much higher goals than just beating their rival, but there’s no denying how sweet it is to beat the Tar Heels.

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NC State Basketball

Louisville Transfer Guard Mike James is Currently Visiting NC State

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Louisville Transfer Guard Mike James (6’5″/200) is on a visit to NC State currently, according to a source.

Indiana State Transfer Ryan Conwell was on campus last week, but he just committed to Xavier.

From what I hear, the staff preferred James over Connell anyway. A plus with James is he has 2 years of eligibility, whereas Conwell has 1.

News broke about James entering the Transfer Portal back on March 25th, and NC State was quick to reach out. Kevin Keatts and his staff recruited the former 4-star prospect out of high school heavily, but he ultimately chose the Cardinals.

Rivals ranked James as the #71 overall player in the 2021 recruiting class, and ESPN ranked him as the #7 prospect in the state of Florida.

After redshirting his first year in Louisville due to torn achilles, James has been a starter for the Cardinals the past two years. This year, he averaged 12.6 points and 5 rebounds.

For a more extensive look at James’ game, click here.

Rivals ranks James as the #77 overall player in the Transfer Portal.

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