A few years ago, no one would have batted an eye at Abilene Christian coming to Raleigh to take on the Wolfpack in an early-season duel.
But anyone paying attention recently knew that the Abilene Christian matchup could be dangerous.
The Wildcats had made national news in 2021 when, as a #14 seed, they upset #3 Texas in the NCAA Tournament. And just this past week they upset Oklahoma State on their home court, 64-59.
None of that mattered to NC State, who handled their business on Friday night 84-64.
Here is our take:
– As I said last time, NC State’s defense is going to be the best we’ve seen under Keatts. Jayden Taylor is an absolute ball hawk, DJ Horne is feisty, Morsell is and elite and physical defender, and you have a 6’10, long and agile guy at the 4 in Diarra. Abilene Christian struggled to get anything going offensively. They shot just 35% and 29% from 3 and not a single player reached double figures for them.
– Jayden Taylor is really good. I guess I’ll continue hyping up Taylor. He deserves it. The kid is not just our best on-ball defender, he’s also very athletic, very slippery, and has a great shot. When he gets in his comfort zone, State fans are going to love him. Last night he was extremely aggressive and Abeline Christian had no answer. He was just too quick, too shifty and got to the basket at will in the first half (drawing fouls most of the time. But in the 2nd half, he found his stroke and started dropping 3s. Taylor finished with a game-high 22 points on 5-12 shooting and 3-4 from long range. On paper you’re going to wonder why I’m so excited about a 5-12 shooting performance, but watch the game and you’ll see. All of his misses were early in the game, and most were chip shots he won’t miss on a normal basis. He took good, smart shots, attacked the hoop with aggression, and played a real nice style of basketball. If he’s going to be this team’s top scorer, then fans are going to love his style. Very team-oriented, hard worker, but still gets buckets when needed.
– Diarra almost had a quiet double-double. I re-watched the game to see how I missed Diarra’s 9 points and 11 rebounds, and when I finished watching the 2nd time, I realized why. It wasn’t flashy, he didn’t score in spurts, he didn’t even take a 3. He just played his role and let his 6’10 frame do it’s work. It will be interesting to see how Diarra fares against bigger teams and if this type of performance is something he can continue to replicate, but as of now, he’s really filling that 4 spot better than anyone Keatts has had. He’s rebounding at a double-digit rate, and he’s providing a shot-blocking presence in the paint.
– Nice, efficient game from DJ Horne. I guess I was worried when we got Horne that he would play like Joiner or Smith. Not that I had anything against those guys. They were awesome. But, I know that if NC State is ever going to go anywhere, they need to learn to play team basketball and get away from this 1 on 1, isolation stuff we’ve seen during the Keatts era. Horne has been a pleasant surprise, because, while he can create off the dribble, he’s definitely a guy who plays within the offense and looks to pass when nothing is there. That’s the takeaway with Horne, for me. He had a really efficient 15 points on 6-11 shooting and 2-5 from 3. And that is great, but we know this guys is going to be a high-end scorer. What we didn’t know is how well he’d fit within the team framework, and we’re finding out that he’s going to fit just right.
–Morsell bounced back with 16 points. Casey still hasn’t found his shot (he was 1-4 from 3pt range), but it’ll come. He’s a little excited, the shot is a little flat, and I’m sure that’ll be corrected as we get a few more games under our belt. He’s continued to be a physical presence, a great defender, and he’s been attacking more off the dribble, which, with his frame, puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
– DJ Burns did his thing again. I could just copy and paste my Burns take every game. He’s one of the best offensive bigs in the nation. He’s definitely a Top 1 or 2 guy in the ACC, and he showed it again. State didn’t need him to dominate, as Abeline Christian kept sending double-teams to stop him. It didn’t matter, he still had 12 points, 7 boards and 4 assists.
– Quiet night from the bench. O’Connell wasn’t as effective against the smaller, faster Abeline Christian guards as we mentioned might happen after the Citadel game. Middlebrooks played pretty well, adding 5 points and 4 boards in 15 minutes. And Dennis Parker Jr. never really got going, playing 14 minutes but only scoring 1 point and grabbing 2 boards. Parker is going to be a factor, but he’s still feeling out his role on this team, which is expected for a freshman.
– State moves to 2-0, gets a week off, and comes back next Friday against Charleston Southern.
Pack Insider HIGHLIGHT REEL of NC State’s 93-61 Win Over UMES
NC State defeated Maryland Eastern Shore on Wednesday night 93-61, and 6 Wolfpack players scored in double figures. Check Pack Insider’s Highlight Reel ABOVE of the victory in Reynolds, which includes every basket NC State made.
You can also check out our breakdown of the game BY THE NUMBERS here.
NC State vs. UMES: BY THE NUMBERS
NC State defeated Maryland Eastern Shore 93-61 on Wednesday night. Here’s a look at the Wolfpack victory BY THE NUMBERS.
NC State dominated in all 4 Factors that lead to victory. They shot better, won the turnover battle, grabbed more offensive boards and got to the free throw line more.
Six NC State players scored in double figures. Last time that happened? March 6, 2020.
Junior Jayden Taylor led the Wolfpack in scoring with 21 points, shooting an impressive 8 of 11 from the field, and 3 of 5 from three. Over the past 2 games, Taylor is shooting 68% from the field and 63% from beyond the arc. Taylor has now led NC State in scoring in 3 of their 8 games, and is averaging a team high 14.9 points on the season. He is also shooting an insane 50% from deep, which is obviously a team high. What makes that number so impressive, is the fact he shot 32.6% from three last year at Butler.
Senior DJ Burns had 15 points, and was back to his normal self, shooting an efficient 7 of 9 from the field. Over the prior two games, Burns had made only 40% of his shots, which isn’t like him.
Senior Casey Morsell had 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting (1-4 3PT) and 5 rebounds. Morsell is shooting 36.1% from three on the year.
Sophomore MJ Rice made his NC State debut, and made the most of his 10 minutes of playing time, scoring 11 points and grabbing a team high 6 rebounds (2 offensive boards). He shot 5 of 6 from the field.
Sophomore LJ Thomas continued to provide a spark for the Pack, and like Rice, maximized his playing time, scoring 10 points in 9 minutes of play. He also had a team high 3 steals.
Senior DJ Horne had 10 points, shooting 4 of 7 from the field, and 2 of 5 from three-point land. Horne also led NC State with 4 assists, and now leads the team in assists on the year.
Junior Ben Middlebrooks picked up his first start of the season. Middlebrooks and Junior Mohamed Diarra ended up playing equal minutes (14). Diarra was seemingly more productive, with 8 points and 5 boards (averaging a team high 6.9), compared to Middlebrooks’ 2 points and 4 boards. Before you write off Middlebrooks’ impact in his first game as a starter, NC State was +23 with him on the court, which was a team high, compared to Diarra’s +7.
The Wolfpack will be back in action next Tuesday night in PNC Arena, against UT Martin at 7pm.
NC State’s NET Ranking After Defeating Maryland Eastern Shore
NC State defeated Maryland Eastern Shore 93-61 last night, improving to 6-2 on the season. Ironically, they fell one spot in the NET Rankings, from 51st to 52nd.
NC State’s two losses were against #1 BYU (!) and Ole Miss (#89). BYU was a Quad 1 loss, and Ole Miss was a Quad 2 loss.
The Wolfpack currently rank 7th in the ACC.
ACC Teams in NET Rankings
52) NC State
71) Virginia Tech
91) Boston College
105) Wake Forest
107) Florida St.
159) Georgia Tech
212) Notre Dame
For a refresher on how the NET Rankings are calculated:
Using the quadrant system, which was in its fourth season in 2020-21, the quality of wins and losses will be organized based on game location and the opponent’s NET ranking.
Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353
The number of Quadrant 1 wins and Quadrant 3/4 losses will be incredibly important when it comes time for NCAA tournament selection and seeding. (NCAA)
Kansas Transfer MJ Rice Makes Quite the Impression in his NC State Debut
We’ve seen a lot of new faces on the NC State Men’s Basketball team this season, but one face we haven’t seen yet is Kansas Transfer Guard/Forward M.J. Rice (6’5″/215)…until tonight.
Rice stepped away from the program for personal reasons earlier this Fall, and when he returned, he had a little catching up to do. It wasn’t until today during shoot around that Rice and Keatts both knew that tonight would be his debut.
“He’d been practicing for the last couple of weeks, and you know, I was just trying to figure out when he was ready. He and I, we talked a little bit after shoot around today and I said ‘MJ you ready to go tonight?'” said Kevin Keatts. “and he had this big huge smile on his face. He’s like ‘You sure you ready?’ He’s like ‘Ask me some plays.’ So he and I sit over there on the scores table at the Dale and we went over plays and I was like ‘You know what, you are ready to play.'”
Out of all the transfers Keatts brought in this offseason, Rice might have the highest ceiling. Rice was a 5-Star prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, and ON3 ranked him as the #24 overall prospect nationally. He committed to Kansas, where he played in 23 games for the Jayhawks as a Freshman in 2022, averaging 2.2 points in 7.6 minutes per game. Rice was a huge pickup in the Transfer Portal, ranked as the #2 player in the Portal, with three years of eligibility remaining.
Rice also isn’t new to the area either, playing high school ball at Durham Academy, before heading off to Oak Hill Academy and Prolific Prep.
In a short sample size, Rice gave us a glimpse of what the hype is all about tonight. He scored 11 points in 11 minutes of play, also grabbing 6 boards. Rice was 5-6 from the field, and hit the only three he took. In the most electrifying play of the night, Rice took it coast-to-coast, finishing with a soaring dunk.
“He gives us another dimension. We’ve been playing with six of our new dudes. Now we added the seventh and I’m happy for him. He’s going to help us. He’s going to be really good for us.” said Keatts. “I said this on the radio just now…we’ve got some older guys, but two really good young players in Dennis Parker Jr. and also MJ Rice. It was good for MJ to see the ball going in. I think he played 10 minutes had 11 points. He made a three. He had a big time dunk, so I was excited for him.”
“He gives us the ability to play a little bit more small ball. If we have to, we can play him and Dennis Parker both at the three and four. Really good defender at that position and can rebound the basketball,” said Keatts. “It’s going to take time. I’m trying to figure out how to kind of put him into the rotation, and now we’ve added another really good exciting piece to it, but it was good to have him back out there.”
Welcome to the Pack MJ! We’re glad you’ve arrived!