Second signature win not lost on Wolfpack

Duke NC State Basketball-1

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) guards North Carolina State's Allerik Freeman (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)


Sports Writer

Monday, January 8, 2018

When first-year head coach Kevin Keatts and N.C. State toppled No. 2 ranked Arizona in November, impressive a win as it was, there was no rest or time for reflection.

The Wolfpack (11-5, 1-2 ACC) wrapped up that upset in the Bahamas after a 7 p.m. start and were back playing 15 hours later, an eventual loss to Northern Iowa that had the makings of a trap game.

But on Saturday, this up-and-down season that cratered with a loss to UNC-Greensboro added another high: an upset of No. 2 Duke, N.C. State’s second win over a second-ranked team in the country.

This time, playing at home in Raleigh with a few days between games instead of a back-to-back in a different country, the Wolfpack were going to hold onto the moment for a little bit longer. 

“It’s been exciting. We got a much-needed break yesterday. We didn’t have practice,” said Keatts on Monday, whose Wolfpack next play No. 25 Clemson at home on Thursday. “When we won in the Bahamas against Arizona it was a real short turnaround. We didn’t really have a chance to enjoy it. With this group, I want them to enjoy wins when they come.”

Keatts has stressed the need this season for a balanced effort, with the current team missing a type of player like last year’s with Dennis Smith Jr.

On Saturday against Duke, six players scored in double figures (all between 10 and 16 points) to help negate Marvin Bagley III’s 31 points and 10 rebounds.

That’s a stat nearly identical with N.C. State’s season average of five players in double figures, starting with Allerik Freeman’s 15.3 points per game.

With a more formal identity, said Keatts, and two distinctly signature wins heading into the bulk of their ACC schedule, the Wolfpack will have a chance to gain some more traction and prove themselves a different team than the one that lost to UNC-Greensboro in mid-December.

“I think we’re getting there. We’re starting to develop chemistry and get guys playing good basketball together,” Keatts said. “We’re understanding now that when you come in with a new coach, it sometimes takes all of the non-conference games for everybody to get on the same page.”

UNC looks to regroup

All three Triangle teams have started ACC play at 1-2, with the Tar Heels’ two conference losses coming in the last two games against No. 23 Florida State and now third-ranked Virginia.

The back-to-back defeats dropped the defending champions from No. 12 to No. 20, the latest challenge being a home game tomorrow against Boston College, which beat Duke earlier this season.

After a strong start, the “marathon,” as Roy Williams called it, to begin the ACC schedule has slowed the Tar Heels. It won’t get much easier with the Eagles (11-5, 2-2 ACC), a much-improved team from last year that picked up a win on Saturday against Wake Forest.

“They've got four or five kids that can all score, driven by (Ky) Bowman, (Jerome) Robinson, (Jordan) Chapman, those guys on the perimeter,” said Williams of BC’s top-three scorers. “They played great against us last year. They’re a team that can beat anybody on any given night.”

The Tar Heels (12-4, 1-2 ACC) lost by 12 to Virginia and by one to Florida State, both on the road in a four-day span, lowlighted by a 29.6 shooting percentage against the Cavaliers in a 49-point effort, their second lowest output of the season.

Part of the recent lull has been the play of Theo Pinson, UNC’s leading assist man who scored just nine points combined against FSU and UV.

On Monday, Williams joked that both he and his senior starter were in search of answers to the bad play of late.

“That’s a question that me and Theo would both like to answer,” he said. “He hasn’t played very well these last couple of games. Theo is a playmaker for us so we need him to get going there again. The kids trust him and he does make some big plays for us, it’s just been a difficult time these last couple days.”

Same story in Durham

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is facing a similar problem to his contemporary: a slumping senior. Grayson Allen, in three conference games, has made just 16 of 48 shots and 5 of 23 from three-point range.

Krzyzewski said Allen’s recent shooting woes could be the product of a few things: a lack of aggression, fatigue, or the lack of continuity that comes with a four-year player hanging around a program packed with one-and-done players.

“He has to hunt his shot. We haven’t really hit a transition three in a while and that’s a major part of our offense, especially for (Allen),” Krzyzewski said. “He’ll play better but he hasn’t played well. When he plays well, usually we play well. That’s how it works when you’re one of the one or two key players on the team.”

The No. 7 Blue Devils (13-2, 1-2 ACC) play Pittsburgh on the road this Wednesday, a game Krzyzewski said both Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier will miss because of injuries.