NC State just had one of its best shooting performances inside the arc of the season, and not only did it occur largely without paint-scoring maestro DJ Burns, but it led to an 83-point evening where the Pack did not make a single three the whole game.
It’s been discussed at length on The Lotcast and in previous articles here how much trouble State was having generating offense from its traditional pick-and-roll sets. The most damning statistic here was DJ Horne’s two-point shooting stats from first two conference games where State got primarily drop coverage on its pick-and-roll sets. These were the Notre Dame and UNC games, and Horne was 3/22 from inside the arc.
Teams have liked soft drop coverage against the Wolfpack because it’s been easy to play. It runs shooters off the three-point line and protects the rim, and it doesn’t force a lot of rotation from the defense. Things simplify further when the big doesn’t really have to account for Burns rolling to the basket. It does however leave you vulnerable to the mid-range game. This is where Horne has struggled, at least until the night of January 16th.
Horne and Middlebrooks led the charge in State's win over Wake Forest, combining for 35 points and 14/20 shooting from two. State as a whole was a blistering 63% from inside the arc. The biggest difference was Horne’s ability to attack the drop coverage. Seemingly out of the blue, he couldn’t miss his floater. The floater is called the giant killer for a reason, and it certainly was for Horne trying to attack Wake’s bigs. The Pack absolutely shredded the Deacs choice of pick-and-roll coverage, which had given it fits the last few weeks, and it transformed the game.
State finally forced a defense to adjust how it defended the ball screen. Wake had to pull up its big, and it wasn’t long before state burned them with a basket slip from Ben Middlebrooks. It’s amazing what changes when you make shots.
This is a big development for State. If Horne can continue to be effective inside the arc, and he was 9/15 on Tuesday, it breaks down the drop coverage, and that completely transforms what State’s offense sans Burns can be. Horne and Middlebrooks looks to be a budding two-man game, and both players showed some really exciting flashes in Tuesday’s win that we’ve been hoping to see this year. It is just one game, but Horne’s inability to score around the paint was so overt this season that it felt like a foregone conclusion for the rest of the season. Suddenly, it may not be that way.