Takeaways from NC States trip to the Paradise Jam

The Wolfpack returns to Raleigh 2-1, but saw its star finally shine and found its three-point stroke

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Former NC State coach Mark Gottfried gives instructions to Dennis Smith Jr. during a game in 2016-17 (Christine T. Nguyen/North State Journal)

NC State’s venture to the Virgin Islands didn’t go perfectly, but the program came away with a better sense of where the team stands after finishing third in the Paradise Jam.Facing off with Montana and Saint Joseph’s, the Wolfpack came away with double-digit wins despite slow starts. The lone loss to Creighton was simply a showdown of two offensive juggernauts with the ranked Jays clinching the W.Before the Pack returns home to face Loyola on Saturday at PNC Arena, here’s a look at four takeaways from NC State’s business trip to the Caribbean.DSJ dunking and dishingWell before the season started, it was clear who the biggest star was on the team. Dennis Smith Jr. is one of the biggest recruits to come to Raleigh in years and is expected to be a lottery pick when next June.Smith was underwhelming during the first two games, however, shooting just 27 percent from the field against Georgia Southern and St. Francis. That number jumped dramatically after he shot above 40 percent against Montana and Saint Joe’s.The frosh from Fayetteville was named to the Paradise Jam All-Tournament Team thanks to his offensive output, averaging 22 points per game. Tack on the six assists per game and he contributed to an average of more than 30 points during each contest.
We're just gonna stick to cool dunking GIFs for the rest of the game if that's okay with you, @SJUHawks_MBB and @PackMensBball. #paradisejam pic.twitter.com/hypy4rI1rr— Paradise Jam (@paradisejam) November 22, 2016
It may not be a huge deal to most teams, but Smith also missed just three free-throw attempts in 26 attempts. On a team that has typically struggled from the charity stripe, when Smith, Maverick Rowan and Terry Henderson step to the line they are nearly automatic.3-pointers a plentyDespite winning the first two games of the season, the Pack was far from perfect behind the arc. That trend continued against Montana to start the tournament, with State shooting just 4-of-14 from three-point range.That all changed during the final two games. After hitting just nine three-pointers in the first three games, NC State was 25-of-49 from long distance in its final two games of the Paradise Jam.
Terry Henderson looks healthy & confident for NC State. Averaging 17 PPG through 5 games & has already made 14 3's. Shooting 40% from deep.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 22, 2016
Turning that corner is crucial for a guard-loaded team that wants to work from the outside in before the return of Omer Yurtseven. Henderson provided the treys in the loss to Creighton, shooting 7-of-11 from deep, while Henderson, Smith and Torin Dorn combined for 11-of-17 from behind the arc.Slow-starting StateA huge part of the anxiety in Raleigh over the weekend came from NC State’s inability to get off to a hot start in any of the games it played. In fact, the best start came against Creighton, but the Jays’ offense made it tough to keep up the pace.The win over Montana may have come by a final of 85-72, but the Pack actually trailed by two heading into the half. Saint Joe’s was a similar story, with State trailing 20-9 nearly 10 minutes into the game before rallying to take a four-point lead into the locker room.State put together a 13-0 run in the first half and another 11-2 run to start the second against Saint Joe’s to pull away. But with better competition against Illinois (4-1) coming at the end of the month, starting off slowly might not be as easily shrugged off.Help on the wayStarting on Saturday against Loyola, NC State won’t have any limitations on Ted Kapita. After the big man returned against St. Francis for one game, visa complications wouldn’t allow him to travel out of the country. Now he’ll be back in full force for what could be a tough stretch for the Pack.Loyola might not have looked like a tough team this summer on the schedule, but after easily dismissing Oral Roberts and Washington State in the Paradise Jam, the Ramblers proved to have an effective offense. Add Kapita inside with Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya, and State suddenly has depth it didn’t have in the Virgin Islands.
One of the best dunks that didn't count you'll see this season, courtesy of @PackMensBball https://t.co/od6rIbHrlT— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 22, 2016
The Pack is also five games into the season, meaning just four more games to sit out for Yurtseven. Rowan’s status is still up in the air with his concussion symptoms, but getting another three-point artist in the backcourt would only help what the Pack’s guards started in the last two games.After winning two games with an eight-man rotation that saw both Shaun Kirk and Markell Johnson find some success, getting three players back will be huge. Considering the fact that all three could be potential starters, expect a significant uptick in nearly every aspect when they’re all in the rotation.