NC State storms back after slow start for 79-77 win over Loyola

Henderson, Smith combine for 50 points as Wolfpack move to 3-0 at PNC Arena with win over Ramblers

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
North Carolina State guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) goes up for a basket during the second half of a college men's basketball game on Friday

RALEIGH — Guard play has been at a premium for NC State all season, but it needed every bit of production from the backcourt on Saturday in a 79-77 win over Loyola.Dennis Smith Jr., Terry Henderson and Torin Dorn — better known as the “Rescue Squad” — combined for 69 of the Pack’s 79 points on the afternoon. It was a memorable night for all three guards, but Henderson noted Smith’s first breakout game at PNC Arena after a slow start at home.”When he’s attacking the rim, getting to the basket, there’s not a lot of guys who can stay in front of him,” Henderson said. “I was telling him to stay aggressive and just play his game.”Smith put up season highs with 30 points and six rebounds while also dishing out seven assists. The freshman carved up Loyola defenders for several creative buckets, needing just 22 shots to get to the 30-point mark.Despite some off games from his young point guard to start the year at home, coach Mark Gottfried said his confidence was never shaken.”Dennis is always confident,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “He was in a great place mentally all day I thought. He just came out and played with great energy and got everyone else involved. Made some unbelievable passes. Took the ball strong to the basket.”I just think he’s one of those guys that’s got a supreme confidence in himself every day, doesn’t matter.”Loyola came into the game with just one loss after going 2-1 in the Paradise Jam and proved it had the talent to run with the Pack. Aundre Jackson paced the Ramblers with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting while also pulling down six rebounds.The Ramblers wasted no time offensively, jumping out to a 27-16 lead with 10:19 remaining in the first half. NC State rallied to take a 44-43 lead into the locker room, but starting slow was a trend for the Pack in the Paradise Jam as well despite the 2-1 finish.”We’re trying to figure out who we are,” Gottfried said. “We play four guards, then we play two bigs, then we play four guards. We’ve got to figure that out. Ted [Kapita] is now eligible. Maverick [Rowan] is hopefully coming back soon. Then 2-3 more games down the road we’ll get Omer [Yurtseven] back in here.”You’re trying to solve the rubix cube with our team.”While Gottfried is still trying to figure out his roster, Smith gave a slightly easier fix for the team’s early woes in games.”It’s just energy, we’ve got to come out with more energy,” Smith said. “Maybe we need to get some more dunks in warm-ups or something. … Against really good teams, we’re not going to be able to come out with slow starts. We’ll work on it. We’re gonna work on it.”The guards didn’t lack energy, but the post players looked a bit sluggish all game long.Neither Ted Kapita nor BeeJay Anya contributed any points in a combined 15 minutes played. Meanwhile, Abdul-Malik Abu was shut out offensively much of the game — finishing with just six points, six rebounds — but had a crucial put-back layup, rebound and dunk in the final three minutes to help secure the win.In the first five games of the season, Abu never dipped below 12 points and had two double-doubles. Following a tough outing on Saturday against Loyola, Gottfried has a quick — or slow — solution for the Pack’s lead big man.”I think sometimes he gets in a hurry,” Gottfried explained, “He gets the ball down there and he’s in such a hurry to make a play. I think he just needs to have a little more poise and take his time. He’s such a physical force, he doesn’t need to rush. We’ll get him there.”A slightly bigger rotation is coming for State with Rowan being evaluated every day with his concussion symptoms and Yurtseven set to make his debut against Appalachian State. Until then, Abu will still be the lone man inside at times relied upon for his rebounding.As for going against Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the Rescue Squad isn’t concerned about putting up points.”Going into every game we understand that we have a target on our back because of all the publicity and stuff like that,” Henderson said. “But we still go out there and play each and every night as hard as we can and just try to get as many wins as possible.”