NC State came into the Vegas Showdown undefeated. But let’s be real. They were blowing out a bunch of nobodies up until this point so it was pretty hard to guage how good this team would actually be. Last night’s matchup with Vanderbilt was their first real test, and I gotta say, they passed with flying colors.
The Pack used a balanced attack and a few times extended their lead to 14, before finally winning by 6 over Commodores.
I think there are a few major differences with this year’s team that really make it unique from any other Keatts-led team we’ve seen in the past.
1) They play great team defense.
We’ve seen them give effort on defense year after year, but they have always had a problem with our guards keeping guys in front of them, gambling too often on point-to-point passes, or biting on pass fakes/ball fakes. This year is different, though. Jayden Taylor is an absolute ball-hawk on defense. DJ Horne as a feisty defender, we’ve always known Casey Morsell to be an elite, physical, on-ball defender, and now you have the freshman, Dennis Parker Jr, coming on as both a great on-ball defender, but also a help-side shot-blocking presence. This team has all the right pieces to be a Top-3 defensive team in the ACC this season and they showed it last night.
Vanderbilt did shoot 45% from the floor, but if you watched the game, you’d understand why I’m hyping up this defense so much. Vandy stayed in the game by knocking down mid-range jumpers at an outstanding clip. But those are the shots that you want them taking. Contested, long 2’s. Most nights, that’s going to be a winning formula.
State did have 12 steals and forced 19 turnover in this one.
2) A well-balanced offensive attack
I’m excited about this team, and this is one of the main reasons why. I’m an old-school basketball head. I like ball movement. I like smart shots. I like a balanced attack. And this NC State team, more than any others is built for that style of basketball. They are running their offense through DJ Burns, which I love because he’s the kind of high-percentage shots. That’s a far cry from the past teams that relied on one-on-one isolation from the likes of Al Freeman, CJ Bryce, Torin Dorn, Jarkell Joiner, or T. Smith.
This offense can beat you in so many different ways. Obviously Burns, but Jayden Taylor is elite on the drive (and can shoot it), DJ Horne hasn’t even gotten hot yet, but he’s a shifty guard with an outside shot. Morsell is starting to hit his 3s again, and Dennis Parker Jr is already showing you that he’s going to be a force in this league, dropping 18 in his second consecutive double-digit scoring performance.
As you can tell, I’m excited about where this team is going. But let’s get back to last night’s win over Vandy.
– Won with Burns having an off-game.
Not sure what it was, but the usually reliable touch from DJ Burns wasn’t there. Sure, he still ended up with 13 points, but it took him 18 shots to get there. In the past, our best player going cold spelled disaster, but not with this team. Everyone else stepped up and picked up the big man.
– Freshman Dennis Parker Jr. is showing he’ll eventually be a star
I keep saying it, but Parker Jr is Jericole Hellems with athleticism. Hellems was pretty good at NC State. He had all the tools, but he just didn’t have the burst, and the bounce needed to be that undersized mismatch at the 4. Parker has that. He’s able to take you off the dribble, finish at the rim, or even knock down the 3. All of that, and he’s extremely physical and disciplined on the floor. He came off the bench, played 33 minutes, went 7-10 (2-3 from 3pt range), and finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Diarra just played 7 minutes in this one, but this is a luxury for Keatts. When he needs size, he’s got Diarrah. When he needs quickness and aggressiveness he has Parker Jr.
– Jayden Taylor is State’s #1 breakout candidate
Sure, Taylor is averaging 14 ppg and shooting 42% from the floor, but I don’t think we’ve even seen him scratch the surface offensively. This guy has it all. He’s shifty, he’s physical, he’s got bounce, he is a crafty finisher around the rim and he can shoot it. He put up a team-high 18 points on just 12 shots. He knows how to get to the line (5-7 from the FT line) and he can knock down 3s. He really was the 2nd half spark for NC State. His finishes on the break, steals, and overall hustle were just contagious during a few times when State looked like their focus was starting to wane.
– Overall versatility and depth will be key
Over the course of a season, you face a bunch of different teams, put together in a bunch of different ways. College basketball is a game of matchups and mismatches. Can you create them? Can you capitalize on them? The more one dimensional your team is, the more you’ll run into teams who you can’t matchup with.
This NC State may not have that problem.
If they need to go small and fast, they go with Horne, Taylor, Morsell, Parker and Burns.
If they. need to go big, the go with Horne (or O’Connell), Taylor, Morsell, Diarra and Burns.
If they need to protect the ball and run the offense, they can go with O’Connell at the point.
If they. need to up the pace and have shooters everywhere, they can go with Horne.
Parker Jr can slot in at the 3 if they need him to.
And we aren’t even talking about MJ Rice yet, who is the highest-ranked transfer State landed last year. The former Kansas forward is working his way back after being away from the team during the preseason.
Next up BYU…
The next test is going to be tonight against the offensive powerhouse that is BYU. The Cougars ae 5-0 with a win over #17 ranked San Diego State. They are averaging over 90 points per game, shooting 48% from the floor and 38% from 3pt range as a team. NC State is picked to lose by almost 7 in this one, but if the defense is a good as I think it is, it’s going to be closer than that for sure.
Thoughts on NC State’s 83-87 Loss to Syracuse
NC State’s (16-10/8-7) 83-87 loss to Syracuse this evening might have been the nail-in-the-coffin when it comes to the Wolfpack’s NCAA Tournament aspirations. They were barely on the bubble as it was, but this game and the next two games against Boston College and Florida State were “must wins.” On top of that, the Wolfpack probably needed to beat Pitt in the regular season finale, and beat either Duke or UNC.
With this loss, NC State will need a miracle. They will need to win the rest of their regular season games, which concludes with 3 consecutive Quad 1 games.
In regards to this evenings game, it’s hard to beat a team when you allow them to shoot 61.3% in the first half, and allow a guy who averages 11.3 points per game (Chris Bell) to sink 8 of 9 three’s at the halfway mark. Sure, you could make the excuse that they were just hitting everything they threw up, but the defense was lackluster, and they failed to adjust to a player with a hot hand.
What I’m about to say isn’t meant to describe a moral victory for NC State. With that being said, this team didn’t give up, and clawed back from a 15-point halftime deficit (16-point at one point in the 2nd half), to take a 1-point lead with 3:15 left in the game. That was the first time the Wolfpack had led since it was 2-0.
Senior DJ Horne was sensational once again, scoring 25+ points for the 5th straight game, matching what Cat Barber did back in 2015-16. Horne finished with 32 points, hitting 11 of his 20 field goal attempts, and an insane 6 of 8 from three.
Could you argue that Horne was fouled on the last play? I guess, but I wouldn’t have called it.
Three other Wolfpack players scored in double figures: Ben Middlebrooks (12), DJ Burns (12) and Jayden Taylor (10). Honestly, they all shot well. Middlebrooks had a double-double, with 10 rebounds.
Mohamed Diarra was solid with 7 points (3-6) and 8 boards.
Syracuse came back to reality in the second half, and ended up shooting 51% from the field, but the Wolfpack shot 47%. Both teams shot well. In fact, NC State actually scored more points off of turnovers, had more second chance points and had more free throws.
You simply can’t put yourself in a position to dig yourself out of a 16-point deficit. You can’t allow a guy to make 8 of 9 three’s in the opening half, with 6 of them being practically uncontested.
The Wolfpack have lost 3 of the last 4, and all 3 losses have been by 4 points or less. I wouldn’t say the Pack lost any of those three games due to a lack of effort. Rather, I would say it was primarily due to inconsistency, a lack of discipline and poor decisions in timely moments (Jayden Taylor’s TO with 1:13 left with the game tied).
With Wake Forest beating Pitt tonight, a Wolfpack win would have put them in 4th place in the ACC.
A big missed opportunity for the Pack this evening.
NC State 83 Syracuse 87: BOX SCORE
DJ Horne is Looking to Continue His Streak of 20+ Points or More
NC State is trying to stop a 6-game losing streak to Syracuse tonight, but Senior Wolfpack Guard DJ Horne is trying to continue a streak.
Currently, Horne has scored 20+ points in 5 straight games, which is tied with what Terquavion Smith did last year. If Horne scores 20+ points tonight, his 6-game streak will be the longest since 2015-16, when Cat Barber strung together 7 straight games of 20+ points.
Horne also has scored 25+ points in 4 straight games. If he does so again tonight, he will be the first player to do so since Barber did so in 2015-16, when he scored 25+ in 5-straight games.
What Horne has done in his coming home campaign has been nothing short of remarkable. He is shooting 43.4% from three, which ranks 2nd in the ACC. In his last 18 games, Horne is shooting 46.6% from deep. In ACC play, Horne is averaging 19.3 points per game, which ranks 2nd in the conference.
Here’s what Horne’s numbers look like over his 5-game streak of 20+ points: 26.6 points/51.8 FG%/48.8 3PT%.
NC State is Looking to Snap a 6-Game Losing Streak to Syracuse
NC State might be a 5.5-point favorite this evening agains Syracuse, but beating the Orange hasn’t been easy for the Wolfpack over the past couple of years. Syracuse has defeated NC State in 6 consecutive games.
The 6-game losing streak is the Wolfpack’s longest current losing streak. The Pack are in familiar territory, after snapping a 6-game losing streak to Clemson their last time out.
Kevin Keatts started off his tenure in Raleigh by beating the Orange in 3 consecutive games, but has lost the last 6 obviously.
The last time NC State defeated Syracuse was on February 11th, 2020, winning 79-74 on the road. The last time the Wolfpack beat Syracuse at home was the year before, winning decisively 73-58 in PNC Arena on February 13th, 2019.
In three of the losses, the Wolfpack was upset.