North Carolina, L 113-96
Braxton Beverly- 17 pts (5-7 FG, 4-5 3PT, 3-4 FT), 2 ast
C.J. Bryce- 15 pts (6-12 FG, 1-2 3PT, 2-3 FT), 2 reb, 3 ast
After that brutal 0-12 from the field game (0-9 from deep), Braxton Beverly got back on track shooting the ball this week putting up back to back 17 point games including going 9-14 from three. It was great to see him come out and still shoot the ball with confidence even after such a poor shooting performance. Beverly’s importance to this team can’t be understated. He’s the only true knockdown shooter on the roster, so when he’s on it gives the offense another crucial dimension that it doesn’t have otherwise.
C.J. Bryce continues to string together strong games, leading the Pack in scoring in ACC play at 13.9 ppg, and has become a go-to guy for this team. Bryce was known primarily as a slasher at UNCW, and while he still possesses the ability to get to the hole and finish around the rim, his shooting has been a pleasant surprise. From the naked eye it seems he’s tightened up his form in the past month or so and it’s translated to a 50% clip from deep in his last 8 games. More on him later.
Luke Maye- 31 pts (10-15 FG, 1-4 3PT, 10-10 FT), 12 reb
Coby White- 21 pts (6-16 FG, 2-5 3PT, 7-8 FT), 4 ast, 2 reb
Luke Maye did it again. Maye’s number are down across the board, but it ain’t due to playing against NC State twice. Those two games against State account for two of his top three scoring outputs of the season. He was efficient from the field and was a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe, which happens to be really his only statistic that is improved from last year. Now, maybe his stat line wouldn’t have been as inflated if he ever got called for shoving someone in the back on an offensive rebound (guys don’t just end up in the first row of the seats for no reason). But that’s neither here nor there as Maye ended up with fourth straight double-double against the Pack.
Coby White came in to college with a reputation as an elite scoring point guard and boy has he lived up to that. White has been exceptional at creating his own shot at all 3 levels and at 6’5” is a nightmare to try and guard. He was in attack mode all night long against State and they simply didn’t have an answer for him in the open court. There aren’t too many guys as quick as him with the ball. Joel Berry II was a very good collegiate player, but White has been a clear upgrade in my opinion.
If you told me NC State would go in to the Dean Dome and shoot 50% from the field, take 24 free throws, finish +6 in the turnover battle and score 96 points I’d feel pretty damn good about State walking away with a big victory. Well, they did do all of that and still got spanked. Unfortunately there are two ends of a basketball court, one of which requires you to do this thing called defense. A few days after playing great defense and horrible offense, the Pack completely flipped the script to make the wrong kind of history for the second game in a row. The Tar Heels got going early and never looked back on their way to their highest point total in the 236-game history in this rivalry. UNC is a very good offensive team and has been clicking on all cylinders since their 21-point loss to Louisville exactly one month ago. But NC State didn’t do much to help their cause, offering little to no resistance.
The best way I can think to describe the defense on Tuesday night is undisciplined. It all starts with knowing your personnel. Kenny Williams came in to the game shooting just 29.5% from deep, but on several occasions defenders flew out at him leaving their feet which allowed him to take a couple dribbles and score inside the arc, where he shoots a much higher 57%. A couple easy looks early on allowed him to get in a rhythm. On the flip side, a guy like Cam Johnson, who ranks 4th in the nation in three-point shooting, was given some really good looks which he was able to knock down.
For the team as a whole, it was no secret that UNC wanted to run and crash the glass. Well the result of those two areas was UNC more than tripling NC State in fast break points (despite 6 more turnovers) as well as mauling them on the glass for a +14 advantage. The Wolfpack have been able to get by for most of the season with just two big men on the roster, but it’s started to catch up to them and Walker and Funderburk were abused in Chapel Hill. Those two combined for 8 rebounds, while Carolina’s two starting big men combined for 22. In transition, the Heels were able to get out and run whenever they wanted which created some quick and easy opportunities. It’s a problem when you’ve got Luke Maye out there running one man fast breaks. It’s safe to say the Pack did a horrible job of executing the scouting report.
But the play that kind of summed up the night for me was late in the first half when NC State played solid defense for about 27 seconds which led to Garrison Brooks having the ball in a tough spot in the corner. Instead of forcing him to take a low percentage shot, DJ Funderburk went flying past him through the air which gave Brooks an easy dunk as the shot clock expired. To say that was a dumb play on Funderburk’s part would be a gross understatement. I didn’t think NC State let up 113 points due to a lack of effort necessarily, but rather a lack of focus and lack of both personnel and situational awareness. It was refreshing to see the ball go through the hoop on offense again, but you’ve still got to stop the other team.
Pittsburgh, W 79-76
C.J. Bryce- 21 pts (6-11 FG, 4-5 3PT, 5-6 FT), 7 reb, 2 ast
Markell Johnson- 10 pts (3-8 FG, 3-6 3PT, 1-2 FT), 8 ast, 2 TO
C.J. Bryce is becoming a mainstay in this feature as a top performer, but he deserves a ton of credit for his play following the turn of the calendar. It was a lot of the same Saturday against Pitt. Bryce was aggressive in looking for his shot but did it within the flow of the game, which is something that has contributed to increased efficiency shooting the ball. He put the game away with 3 free throws in the final 10 seconds. His game is just so smooth and it’s really starting to translate well to the ACC.
Coach Keatts said in the postgame that he thought this was Markell’s best game since returning from that scary fall. That was the Markell Johnson that we saw for much of last year. His increase in scoring this year has been well documented and necessary at times. But I still believe he’s at his best when he’s able to balance the scoring and distributing, with maybe a little bit more of an emphasis on the distributing. His eight assists on Saturday were a season high. Last year? Johnson had 13 games with at least eight assists. You still want him to be aggressive looking for his shot, and he hit a big three late to give NC State the lead for good, but he’s just so gifted when it comes to creating for others on a team that doesn’t have many creators. Markell did a nice job of balancing both aspects of his game on Saturday, and I think you take a 10 and 8 stat line from him most nights.
Xavier Johnson- 17 pts (5-12 FG, 1-3 3PT, 6-7 FT), 5 reb, 2 ast
Jared Wilson Frame- 16 pts (6-7 FG, 4-5 3PT), 5 reb
Xavier Johnson had another nice outing against the Wolfpack, and he did in much of the same way: attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line. His jump shot could use some work but he’s such a tough kid and is difficult to slow down when he gets going downhill. That play when he went behind the back and split three defenders on the fast break was one heck of an individual play and shows just how hard he can be to stop. When he’s not able to finish he’s probably getting to the free throw line, where he’s shooting 80.7% and ranks in the top 40 nationally in free throw attempts. Jared Wilson-Frame couldn’t buy a basket in Raleigh last month, but it was quite the opposite this weekend. Wilson-Frame showed off a smooth shooting stroke, hitting 4 of 5 from deep including three that were part of the Panther’s 18-2 run to take the lead in the second half. As one of only two seniors on the roster, Wilson-Frame is a steadying force for this inexperienced ball club and was again on Saturday.
This was a gut check win for NC State. Pittsburgh is in the midst of a 7-game losing streak and has dropped to 12-12, but the Wolfpack was at a crossroads after a close call to UVA followed by two embarrassing losses. This is a Pitt team that is not deep and has very little margin for error on a nightly basis, but if guys stick around this could be a top 25 program again in a couple years. Keep in mind Pitt had previously knocked off both Louisville and Florida State at home, so they’re certainly capable. A loss here and things really could’ve snowballed out of control with Syracuse and Duke next up on the schedule.
It was a solid all around effort, even it wasn’t clean at times. They only turned the ball over 10 times, but struggled mightily shooting from inside the arc which was part of the reason they were only able to turn 20 offensive rebounds in to 13 second chance points. Pitt took those misses and got out on the break, taking advantage of some pretty sloppy transition defense from State. Too many times guys were able to get to the rim for easy layups and dunks. For a team that wants to push the pace, NC State was destroyed in fast break points for the second game in a row. Discouraging, but fixable. Defensively, they are letting the ball handler do just about whatever they want and get deep in to the paint with ease. Offensively, there just hasn’t been enough urgency to get out and run. I’d really like to see Markell push tempo more in the coming games, something he’s capable of doing effectively. That being said, the ball movement was pretty good and they were able to generate much more than Pitt in the halfcourt.
Even with poor transition play and shaky two point shooting, the Wolfpack had answers in a tough environment. After getting down 23-19, they came back with a quick 10-2 run to regain the lead for the remainder of the half. Following a blown 14-point lead in the second half, back to back three pointers from Torin Dorn and C.J. Bryce took it back and wouldn’t give it up. The big three backcourt of Johnson, Bryce, and Beverly was outstanding. It felt like they were all clicking on the same night for the first time all year, and that’s going to need to become the norm as NC State makes a late season push. Those three might not combine to go 12-20 from three again this year, but if they can come close to that production NC State will be tough to beat in the final month. HUGE week coming up…