After ending the season on a down note, losing back-to-back games and dropping four of their final seven contests, there was some concern about North Carolina State maybe blowing its NCAA tournament chances. But hopefully that “sky is falling” concern was put to rest with an emphatic 97-77 dismantling of the Virginia Tech Hokies in the second round of the ACC tournament in the late game Wednesday night.
State looked like it had a shot to finish in the top four of the ACC and earn a double bye. But their late-season stumble dropped them to sixth place in the league. In a weird bit of scheduling, the Pack did not play in the final weekend of the regular season and had over a week off before their first game in the ACC tourney. And the time off seemed like a very good thing.
Right from the get go, State looked like it had great energy. It’s always nice when Terquavion Smith gets off to a hot start and you couldn’t have scripted the game any better. Smith buried a 3-pointer just 20 seconds into the game and made six of his first seven shots from the field.
And it wasn’t merely on the offensive end either that State played well. The Pack had three blocks, four steals and countless deflections in the first half alone, as they built a 27-point lead at the half.
The only bad thing was Greg Gannt coming down with the injury at the end of the half. He did not return after intermission and late in the game they showed him on crutches, hobbling around in the underbelly of Greensboro Coliseum. No news yet on how long he’ll be out.
Smith hit a jumper to start the second half, giving State it’s largest lead of the game. The defensive intensity wasn’t as strong as it was in the opening 20 minutes but the offense was strong enough that the Hokies never seriously mounted a challenge.
Jarkel Joiner was overshadowed by Smith but State’s backcourt duo combined for 50 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover in 70 minutes. Smith had 30 points, while Joiner had seven boards and 10 assists.
Jack Clark and Ebenezer Dowuona each chipped in 11 points off the bench. With DJ Burns picking up a second foul midway thru the first half, Dowuona played 24 minutes in the game. It should prove helpful with the quick turnaround for Burns not having to come off a 35-minute game.
It was just a terrific performance by the Pack, one you wish they could bottle and break out whenever they needed inspiration. State shot a splendid 61.9% from the floor, including 11-24 (45.8%) from behind the arc.
With the win, the Pack advances to take on the Clemson Tigers on Thursday night. Clemson was the only team in the conference to defeat State twice during the regular season. The first win came early in the year, before State hit its stride. The second game saw the Tigers have a great shooting night (59.6% overall, 52.6% from 3) while Smith and Joiner combined to go 7-29. The Pack’s backcourt will have to have a much better game for State to advance. Having the defensive effort they had the first 20 minutes of Wednesday’s game against the Hokies will be a great help, too.