The Pack’s first game after losing starting center Dusan Mahorcic to a torn patella was an ACC road tilt in Miami. State got off to a great start, jumping out to a 16-point lead. But the team’s hot shooting didn’t last. And combined with some questionable coaching moves, Miami came all the way back to claim an 80-73 win.
The good news from the game is that Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith combined for 45 points, with Joiner having a game-high 26. D.J. Burns, in his first game as the clear No. 1 center, had 16 points in 31 minutes.
The bad news was just about everything else. The Pack got just two points from its bench. With Burns being elevated to the starting lineup, it was expected for the bench to take a hit. But you’re not going to win many conference games on the road with only two points coming from your reserves.
But at least part of the issue was coach Kevin Keatts refusing to play his subs meaningful minutes. It’s tough to take either Joiner or Smith off the floor but those two played a combined 79 minutes out of a possible 80. The Pack really was running on fumes at the end of this game.
Another thing that hurt was Jack Clark coming up with another sub-par effort against a Power 5 team. Here are Clark’s games against top competition:
Kansas: 2-6, 5 points
Pittsburgh: 0-8, 2 points
Miami: 1-1, 3 points
That’s 3-15 for 10 points in those three games. A small sample? Sure, but how long do you give him to find his stroke against good teams? The main problem is that there isn’t anyone really to replace him. Ernest Ross is a great athlete but runs around like a lost puppy on the court. Perhaps with more minutes, Ross could relax and find himself. It would be nice to see Keatts give these two equal minutes, much like he did at center before Mahorcic went down, with both playing 18-22 minutes per game.
Last night State played another non-conference opponent, as it squared off against Furman. This was not another tomato can, as Furman is expected to win its conference and returns an experienced lineup from a team that won 22 games last year. State was favored by six points in the game and there was at least a little concern from the fan base that if they didn’t play well that the Pack could lose this game outright.
Instead, State played perhaps its best game of the season, showing a defensive intensity that’s been lacking, certainly one that wasn’t evident in the second half of the Miami game. There was also some great shooting in the first 25 minutes or so of the game. The end result was a 92-73 win for the home team.
Smith led the way with a game-high 24 points, including 4-8 from 3-point land. Smith has Carte Blanche to shoot whenever and wherever he wants and often times he takes some crazy shots. But against Furman, he was shooting in rhythm for the most part. And his one wild shot came as the shot clock was expiring.
Five players scored in double-digits for the Pack, including L.J. Thomas, who came off the bench to add 14 points. Casey Morsell had 17 points, Clark had 15 and Joiner had 10.
Next up for State is a matchup Saturday night against Vanderbilt on a neutral court in Chicago in the Legends of Basketball Showcase. This is not a tournament and this will be the only game the Pack plays here. Vanderbilt is 5-5 and is ranked 96th in the latest KenPom ratings. State checks in at 53. Furman is at 89.
One thing to look for in the Vanderbilt game is if Isaish Miranda gets any playing time. This will be the first game he’s eligible to play but Keatts didn’t make it sound like it was a definite he would see the court. In his post-game press conference after the Furman win, Keatts remarked, “I wouldn’t say be prepared for him to play against Vanderbilt. I wouldn’t say be prepared for him to play the next game after that.”
It’s tough to join a team mid-season and expectations should be low for a freshman under these circumstances. But the Pack could use a big body who could potentially score in the paint. Here’s hoping he sees at least a few minutes on Saturday.