Starting this week and for the rest of conference play, I’m going to take a look back at the two games from the prior week one last time before turning the page and looking forward to the next opponents. This one’s a little late as I’ll try to have them on either Sunday afternoon or Monday morning depending on the day of the weekend game. There could be some tweaking to the format, but as of now this is what we’re going to roll with.
North Carolina, L 90-82
Braxton Beverly- 21 pts (8-14 FG, 5-7 3PT), 4 ast
DJ Funderburk- 15 pts (6-7 FG, 3-3 FT), 5 reb, 2 blk
Braxton Beverly catches a lot of crap sometimes from fans because of his obvious deficiencies on the defensive end to go along with some cold shooting stretches. But he is a gamer. He competes on every possession and gives NC State a legit knockdown shooter, someone not afraid to make a play. It showed as he played fearless all night long, hitting big shot after big shot including eight straight points early on to get State back in the game when they couldn’t buy a basket. The only other player to really show up for the first half was DJ Funderburk, who scored 13 of his 15 in the opening 20 minutes of play. He showed an ability to be able to score down low against big bodies and for the most part held his own defensively. Funderburk was the only Pack player with a positive plus/minus at +6.
Luke Maye- 21 pts (6-13 FG, 2-5 3PT, 7-8 FT), 11 reb, 3 ast
Cameron Johnson- 15 pts (4-7 3PT, 3-3 FT), 11 reb, 5 ast
Luke Maye continues to terrorize the Wolfpack, as he went for his 3rd double-double in as many tries against State under Keatts. In his last 3 games against State, Maye is averaging a ridiculous 28.3 ppg and 13.3 rpg. Cameron Johnson finished with a double-double of his own, but did so in only 23 minutes due to cramps. Johnson continued to light it up from deep, hitting multiple threes for the seventh consecutive game dating back to November. The timeliness of some of his shots was most important though, hitting big shots when it felt like the Pack was getting something going.
You simply can’t spot a good team 12 points right out of the gate, no matter where the game is being played. Carolina came out on fire while State missed three shots in the paint on their second possession and then proceeded to put up a bunch of contested 3’s. This game was defined by State repeatedly clawing their way back but just never being able to get over the hump. It really felt like if State could just grab the lead they might be in business. But instead all they could do was tie it twice for a total of 39 seconds, and come within a point or two several other times. After the Pack got it to 33-31 in the first half, they missed two 3’s and a little run by the Heels stretched it back out. Both times State tied it early in the second half, Cameron Johnson responded with a three. The final big opportunity came with a missed CJ Bryce free throw that would’ve tied it up again at 70, but Carolina responded with a 9-0 run to pretty much put it away. They just always had an answer.
The truth is that in front of an electric PNC Arena crowd, NC State didn’t have their fastball. That’s not to take anything away from UNC, because they came to play and had arguably their best performance of the season (other than maybe Gonzaga). But State uncharacteristically got outrebounded by a whopping 18 and shot season lows in both FG and 3PT %. Also, Markell Johnson had an off night and Devon Daniels contributed pretty much nothing. That isn’t going to cut it against the 12th ranked team in the country. All of that being said, they were still right there and could’ve easily won the game with either a couple more made shots or a few more defensive rebounds. It speaks to this team’s resiliency and firmly proves that they can play with anyone in the country, fastball or not.
Pittsburgh, W 86-80
Eric Lockett- 17 pts (6-9 FG, 3-4 3PT, 2-2 FT), 7 reb, 2 ast
DJ Funderburk- 18 pts (5-9 FG, 8-10 FT), 9 reb, 4 blk
For the second time this year, Eric Lockett followed up a coaches decision DNP in a big game with a season high in points. Lockett seems to be the odd man out that gets lost in the rotation with a ton of options on the wing. Kevin Keatts said in his postgame interview that after not checking in to the UNC game, instead of pouting Lockett was found in the practice facility working out late Tuesday night. That paid off in the form of his best performance this season, highlighted by back to back 3’s that gave NC State back the lead for good with just over 5 minutes remaining. Good things seem to happen when he’s on the court. As for DJ Funderburk, what a performance when he was needed most. He was asked to play a season high 34 minutes, a remarkable feat for someone as foul prone as DJ, being the only post player available after Walker was ejected two minutes in. Not only did he stay out of foul trouble, but he delivered a stat line that fell one rebound short of a double double and was the Wolfpack’s only source of offense during that brutal 3-23 stretch to begin the second half. Also, isn’t it refreshing to see a big man in Raleigh go 8-10 from the line?
Xavier Johnson- 25 pts (8-12 FG, 9-11 FT), 2 ast, 6 TO
Au’Diese Toney- 17 pts (7-10 FG, 2-2 3PT), 6 reb
True freshman guard Xavier Johnson didn’t do too much outside of scoring and actually turned it over 6 times (he averages 3.7 per game), but he did do a lot of that scoring thing. On a day when Pitt’s second and third scoring options went a combined 3-19 from the field, Johnson was able to fill it up. In today’s game it’s unheard of for a guard to score 25 points and not even attempt a three, but instead he was able to use his quickness and toughness to get to the basket which resulted in an efficient shooting day as well as 11 free throw attempts. Au’Diese Toney came in shooting under 40% from the field with a 3PT percentage well below that, but came up with his best all-around performance of the year while playing all but two minutes. Pitt isn’t very deep and is rather undersized, so at 6’6” Toney was at times the tallest player on the court for the Panthers but still battled.
Pittsburgh is by no means a bad basketball team. Yeah, they were historically bad last season and weren’t too much better the year before that. But Jeff Capel has this team competing with wins over Louisville and FSU already. The freshman backcourt of Trey McGowens (who went for 33 against Louisville and 30 last night versus FSU) and Xavier Johnson is playing at a high level and should be downright scary in a couple of years. That mixed with the in-game adversity State had to overcome with ejections, injuries, and having a lid on the basket for about 12 minutes, this actually feels like a solid win as it stands right now.
Just like Tuesday, the Pack didn’t necessarily put their best foot forward, but it was certainly a little more understandable being shorthanded. However, they continued to fight and were able to push through eventually thanks to huge contributions from the bench. I already mentioned Lockett and Funderburk, but Devon Daniels was outstanding in the first half and carried the offense at times. The team offensive numbers were pretty similar to the UNC game in regards to FG%, points in the paint, fast break points, etc but the difference was they were able to outrebounded the opponent, string together stops, and hit shots from both the field and the line when they needed to. After that horrific start to the second half, the Keatts conditioning kicked in and NC State scored on their final 12 possessions to close it out. For a program that has forever discovered new ways to lose, this team has been finding new ways to win.
Oh and this clip is gold. You think Kevin Keatts doesn’t know how to work the officials? He literally has Jerry Heater under his thumb here. A little surprised he didn’t give him a treat, pat him on the head, and say “good boy”. Unfortunately, Keatts did have to tell him to come here three times... I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if he had to tell him a fourth.