NC State vs UNC college basketball: How the Wolfpack can win

N.C. State and North Carolina play Saturday, and a lot of the stat geeks will be talking about quadrants and NET rankings and basketball minutiae like Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency.

To the players, it’s more basic.

“This team is pumped, man,” Wolfpack guard Casey Morsell said this week.

And why not? After a 78-66 road win Tuesday at Georgia Tech, the Pack will bring a four-game ACC winning streak into the Smith Center. It’s a team feeling good about itself, and with good reason.

“I definitely think it’s very exciting because we have a lot of guys in our locker room who carry a big chip on their shoulders,” forward Greg Gantt said Friday. “This is exactly what we want, this is exactly what we thrive in, being on the road, rivalry team, four-game winning streak.”

Why the “chip” on the shoulder?

“I just feel like it’s a respect factor,” Gantt said. “I think our resume speaks for itself. I believe that, say our jerseys were blue instead of red, I don’t think there would be any question about what our ranking would be or how people would talk about us.

“But it’s something we feel like we have to go out and grab, and that’s respect. We understand that and we accepted that a long time ago. This is just another brick (to be) added to that house.”

The Pack (15-4 overall, 5-3 ACC) will be the underdog Saturday. N.C. State was battered in Chapel Hill a year ago, losing by 20. But it’s a different year, and the Pack has a different cast.

Here’s what the Wolfpack needs to do to win:

‘Close out possessions’

The phrase is said so often around the Wolfpack team that it has to be one of Keatts’ mantras. And it doesn’t mean ending an offensive possession with a basket.

The Pack has become a better team with better defense. The intent on each defensive possession is to play hard every second of the shot clock and not let up.

In the win at Georgia Tech, that took just five seconds on one Tech possession. In the second half, the Pack forcing a five-second, in-bounds violation under the Tech basket as the Yellow Jackets were trying to muster a comeback.

Those can be winning plays. The Pack needs those Saturday.

N.C. State’s Casey Morsell (14) pulls in the ball over Coppin State’s Isaiah Gross (25) during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Coppin State at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Ethan Hyman

Protect the basketball

One stat that jumped out Tuesday was the Pack’s 15 turnovers that Georgia Tech converted into 22 points.

“We had some careless turnovers and they scored on them,” Morsell said of the Jackets, who employed a 1-3-1 zone and trapped out of it.

That did not cost the Pack the game Tuesday, but a repeat Saturday could be the difference.

“Our focus is in trying to stay solid and not giving up touchdowns,” NCSU coach Kevin Keatts said Friday. “You give up an easy basket and you turn the ball over and they can turn it into two or three points pretty quick.”

The Pack has averaged nine turnovers a game in its eight ACC games — only Notre Dame has had fewer per game (8.75). N.C. State’s turnover margin (plus-4.13) is the ACC’s best.

Good board score

The Pack has been effective in ACC games in limiting offensive rebounds — until Tuesday. Georgia Tech had 18 offensive boards and scored 17 second-chance points.

That was a reversal for N.C. State, which leads the ACC in offensive rebounds per game (11.88) and had eight in Tuesday’s win.

UNC’s Armando Bacot, sore ankle or not, is going to be a problem for the Wolfpack and leads the ACC in offensive boards per game. But the Pack can’t let it be a team problem and expect to win.

Bench help

The Pack’s Terquavion Smith said Ernest Ross has a number of nicknames on the team and playfully rattled them off last week after the homecourt win over Miami. “The Difference” was not one of them, but could have been.

Ross came off the bench to provide 17 points, nine rebounds and the kind of relentless energy any team can feed off of in a close game against a good opponent.

With Ebenezer Dowuona ill and not available Tuesday and forward Jack Clark still sidelined with a groin injury, Keatts had few bench options at Georgia Tech – Ross, LJ Thomas and Breon Pass getting minutes. Keatts said he was not sure if Dowuona would play Saturday and Clark is out indefinitely.

Keatts said his players have gotten better in filling necessary roles this season. That will be needed Saturday.

N.C. State’s Ernest Ross and Terquavion Smith have a word during overtime of the Wolfpack’s 83-81 win over Miami at PNC Arena on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. Kaitlin McKeown

The best of “Baby T”

Terquavion Smith now has played 51 games at N.C. State and has not scored more points in a game than he did last year at UNC. Smith had 34, hitting 10 of 21 shots from the field and 11 of 13 at the foul line.

Not that it mattered. The Tar Heels led 56-31 at the half, pushed the lead to 35 points in the second half and won 100-80. UNC was 15-of-27 on 3-pointers.

Smith needs to be judicious with his 3-point shot selection Saturday. That’s not always his nature — he’ll let ‘em fly from any distance, at any time.

At Georgia Tech, Smith missed several 3s but hit some key ones down the stretch to help the Pack extend the lead.

“That’s what I do,” Smith said. “Great confidence, you know. I missed three in a row and it’s kind of in my head, but I knew I’d get the next opportunity and make the best of it.”

Poise, patience

The Tar Heels will make some runs Saturday. The Smith Center will get loud. It could make for “tight-sneaker time,” as former Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano once called the game-defining moments.

Experience can be critical at those moments and the Pack has more of it this season. Joiner is a graduate transfer. Burns is a graduate transfer. Morsell is a senior and Gantt a redshirt junior.

“Everything we’ve seen on the road we’ve seen before,” Morsell said.”That means a lot when you’re finishing out games on the road.”

At Virginia Tech, it was rowdy and raucous at times in Cassell Coliseum, especially late in the game. But the Pack kept its cool, made the big free throws, and sealed the road win.

“We love road games, honestly,” Morsell said. “It’s something we look forward to. It’s a big opportunity.”

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button