There has been a lot going on lately with NC State athletics, with the men's basketball team in the Vegas showdown, and the Lady Wolpack in the Paradise Jam. Both the men and women also played in the ACC-SEC challenge. Oh, and did I mention that there was a football game Saturday night? A lot of what happened was just downright amazing, but alas, there were some bumps in the road as well. Here are my thoughts and observations about the last week for the Wolfpack.
Saturday night the Wolfpack completely Dominated UNC at Carter-Finley stadium. I thought this was going to be a really close contest, but it was never really in doubt. The defense played out of their minds, and we finally saw the Brennan Armstrong that we expected. For me, this was right up there with the best win in Wolpack football history. It's not just that we won, it's how we won. Drake Maye didn't resemble a first round draft pick, and he spent a lot of the game running from a very aggressive wolfpack defense. It's no secret how good Payton Wilson is, but his performance in his last game at Carter-Finley stadium was nothing short of remarkable. It's bittersweet for me because it's going to be so different next year not seeing the best defensive player that I have ever seen in a wolfpack uniform. He had 15 tackles and an interception against the team that he originally committed to before flipping to NC State. A fitting end to a remarkable career. There are so many guys that I could write a about. Brennan Armstrong, who played his best game this year by far, and Ayden White who shut down Tez Walker the entire game. And of course KC Conception who did what he does best. I don't remember a more satisfying win. This has been Dave Doeren's best coaching job since he has been in Raleigh, and now he has a chance to achieve a 10 win season. The brilliance of Robert Anae was on display once again. We beat UNC for the third year in a row, and completed dominated the arrogant Drake Maye. This was a statement win!
Three weeks ago, Wes Moore's lady Wolfpack were picked to finish Eight in the ACC. They weren't ranked nationally for the first time in what seems like forever, but its not a surprise to me that they are now ranked fifth in the country, and probably should be even higher. Wes Moore has built a dynasty in women's college basketball. His teams play at an extremely high level year after year, and he can recruit with the best. They are 8-0, and they have already beaten UCon and Colorado who were ranked second and third respectively. This program is elite every year, and it is so enjoyable to watch. Reynolds is rocking every game so don't be surprised If this team makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Mens basketball beat Vanderbilt in the Vegas showdown behind a surprising performance from Dennis Parker Jr. At the time, they went to 4-0, and seemed to be learning to play together as a team. Vanderbilt is no juggernaut, but they have some talent so this was a good win. The Wolfpack got out to an early lead, and although they stumbled a little late in the game, held on to win. A lot of guys contributed to the win, and it seems that there are quite a few who can score on any given night. Parker (not to be confused with Peter Parker, although he did remind me of Spiderman with his agility and athleticism), scored 18 points, and he was very active on the boards and defensively. He is the only Freshman on the roster, but from what I have seen so far, he is going to get a lot of playing time. He is a high level talent who is going to have a really good career. The Vanderbilt game was a good effort and it seemed like they were starting to figure out how to play together. I was optimistic about our chances of having a really successful season after watching the game, but things can change very quickly.
After beating Vanderbilt came the championship game of the Vegas showdown against the Grayson Allen school of Basketball etiquette, better known as BYU. There was a fight the night before when they destroyed Arizona State, which resulted in one BYU player being suspended. They are a very talented team coached by Mark Pope, but they have some guys who play a little cocky for lack of a better word. Things were going good for about 30 minutes, but the wheels fell off the wagon, and there wasn't a blacksmith to be found anywhere to put them back on. BYU came into the game leading the nation in 3 pointers made at 12.8 a game. They made 14 against the Wolfpack and they shot 71 percent in the second half. They are a very good basketball team. State led at half and for the first seven minutes of the second half, but your not going to be able to keep pace with a team shooting 71 percent no matter who you are. The game was very heated and there were several skirmishes, one which led to the ejection of Ben Middlebrooks and KJ Keatts for leaving the bench. Jaden Taylor was ejected with a little over a minute left in the game after a less than cordial interaction with a BYU player, which then led to Kevin Keatts being ejected after 2 technicals. I don't think I have ever seen Keatts that upset. Levi Watkins had to restrain him before he left the court. It was a pretty intense game, but it was made much worse by officials who lost control of the game in my opinion. Many of the calls were just downright atrocious and they did a terrible job of managing the game. I don't know what else to say about it really.
The biggest reason that we lost the lead was a total defensive breakdown. We couldn't defend the 3, and we couldn't stop backdoor cuts to the basket. Our off the ball defense was extremely bad, and we were giving up too many offensive rebounds. In my opinion, the guys were really gassed the last 10 minutes of the game, and because of that, our defense suffered greatly. Guys played too many minutes, especially DJ Burns who played 33 minutes, but that could have been prevented easily. We have capable guys sitting on the bench who can give us valuable minutes like Ernest Ross, LJ Thomas, and Breon Pass, but for some reason they don't get many minutes if they get any at all. LJ Thomas is a really good shooter who plays with poise and Ernest Ross plays with a very high motor. Breon Pass is a good shooter and a capable point guard. All three of them are good enough to play valuable minutes, which will allow fresh legs in the last part of games. Kevin Keatts player rotation decisions leave me baffled almost ever game as there is no rhyme or reason in who plays or who doesn't. The game wouldn't have been as close as it was without a career high 28 points from Casey Morsell, who did his best to put this team on his back and carry them, but it wasn't enough, and a chance at a Q1 win went down the drain.
And now for the most discouraged development. The Wolfpack was blown out by an Ole Miss squad that was picked to finish tenth in the SEC. The Wolfpack never led, and the game was never closer than 3 points, and that was very briefly. Ole Miss systematically dismantled NC State from top to bottom, taking away fast break points, and DJ Burns. Couple that with the fact that every wolfpack player was as cold as Minnesota in January, and it's a recipe for disaster. No one could score except Ben Middlebrooks in a game reminiscent of the 24 point effort against Virginia Tech several years ago. Middlebrooks had a careers high 13 points, but that was one of the few bright spots. I guess the only positives from my perspective, are that we now know Middlebrooks is very capable of contributing, and that no one got ejected. This was a very bad loss to a less than average Ole Miss team. I was starting to believe that this team could be an upper tier ACC team this year, but at this point I really don't know. It's just one game and it is very early so anything can happen. I believe that they can turn it around, but if the Wolfpack lose to Boston College on Saturday, it won't be long before the sharks start circling the boat.