After going 3-0 since our last update, North Carolina State cracked the AP Top 25. By itself that’s a great thing for a team that finished in the bottom of the ACC a season ago. But it comes at a time when neither of the blues – Carolina and Duke – are ranked. Noted ACC columnist Luke DeCock tweeted that it was the first time in 40 years that happened. State is now 19-5 overall and 9-4 in the conference. Picked in the preseason to finish 10th in the ACC, the Pack is now tied for fourth.
The first game in this latest stretch was a road tilt in Winston-Salem versus Wake Forest, a venue that hasn’t been kind to State in recent years. The Pack had a dismal shooting half to open the game, making just 33% of their shots. A Jarkel Joiner three before intermission made it a six-point deficit going into the break.
But the 2nd half was a different story, thanks to D.J. Burns.
Wake opted to play Burns straight up without double teaming him. And he scored seemingly at will. He finished the game with 31 points, 23 of which came in the second half. And when Wake finally sent a second defender at Burns, he did a great job of finding the open man. His assist on a 3-point basket by L.J. Thomas gave State a lead they would not relinquish, even if it was tight until the final buzzer.
Next up was a home game against an injury-decimated Florida State squad. The Seminoles record was not good but they entered the game playing the best they had all season, including a recent win at Pitt. But the Pack played perhaps their finest game all season – although the Duke one was more impressive given the opponent. State jumped out to a 30-point first half lead and cruised to a 94-66 win.
The big scoring output was fueled by a tremendous shooting night from behind the arc, as the Pack made 12-20 in 3-point shots. Terquavion Smith had six 3-pointers, en route to a 32-point night. Burns added 15 and Joiner chimed in with 14. The only disappointing aspect of the night was that with a blowout home win, coach Kevin Keatts opted not to play midseason addition Isaiah Miranda. If he wasn’t going to play in this game, it’s extremely doubtful he’ll see the court at all this season.
State swept the home-and-home matchup with Ga. Tech, emerging with a 72-64 win in a game where they played down to their opponent’s level. A 16-point favorite in the game, the Pack needed strong finishes to both halves to earn the win. They closed the first half with a 10-0 run and they got the victory thanks to closing the game with a 12-3 spurt.
After the team shot so well against FSU, State saw Smith and Joiner shoot a combined 3-17 on the night. Burns and Casey Morsell picked up the slack, scoring 24 and 17, respectively. And the Pack got a huge game off the bench from Ernest Ross, who had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Ross ended up being the only reserve on either team to score a point.
With the last update, the hope was that Dusan Mahorcic’s return was imminent. But the team’s starting center did not play in any of the three games and his return is unknown. Ditto for Jack Clark but he hasn’t been missed at all and his return would cut into the playing time of Ross, which no one should want to see at this point.
Next up is a trip to Charlottesville to play No. 8 Virginia. The Tuesday night game has a 9:00 p.m. tip, with the Cavaliers being a 7.5-point favorite. After losing eight in a row to Virginia, State has won three of the last four games, including two in Charlottesville. The highlight of last year’s rotten season was a 77-63 win against the Cavaliers, a game in which then-freshman Smith scored 20 points.