NC State routs Rider, 99-71, in final tuneup before ACC play begins

Yurtseven gets first start, but Dennis Smith Jr. and Abdul-Malik Abu steal the show again in blowout victory

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) slams home a dunk to cap off the game in overtime of the college basketball game against the Tennessee State Tigers at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh

RALEIGH — At the beginning of December, NC State looked like a team attempting to find itself on the court. With three days left before the ACC opener against Miami, the Wolfpack has clearly found its mojo with a full roster and depth it didn’t have at the start of the month.Omer Yurtseven, in his first start, finished with 16 points on 11 shots. Maverick Rowan shot 4-of-8 for 10 points while Ted Kapita hauled in 10 rebounds. In the four games since Yurtseven’s debut against Appalachian State, the Pack has averaged 96 points per game following the 99-71 win over Rider.Mark Gottfried is still reluctant to call his team a finished product, but he’s thrilled with recent results heading into January.”When you play a lot of young players at one time, they have to learn how difficult it is with every team you play at our level,” Gottfried said. “We’re 13 games in, and we’re a lot better than we were four or five games in. That’s just natural. … Now we’re going to get tested in the ACC.”While the ancillary pieces are clearly the difference for a team that struggled against teams like Boston University and Tennessee State, the real story is still Dennis Smith Jr.The freshman continued to wow Wolfpack fans with 19 points with three triples and an absurd 16 assists. When he wasn’t dishing the ball to his teammates for the career-high in assists, he was putting up ridiculous dunks — but that’s nothing new at this point.Dennis Smith Jr.— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) December 29, 2016
The 16 assists helped Smith tally the first double-double of his young career, but all anyone could talk about after the game was the dunk. Smith had his shot blocked on the previous possession when freshman Stevie Johnson fouled him, but DSJ was determined to finish the next one.”I don’t get blocked by nobody,” Smith said. “I was gonna put the next one on his head. I was gonna dunk it the next play, I didn’t care who was under there.”While Smith continued a hot start to his season, backup point guard Markell Johnson was noticeably absent from the stat sheet. Gottfried wouldn’t mention why he sat the freshman, but he did mention he’d be back in the fold against Miami on Saturday.”That’s my decision,” Gottfried said of sitting Johnson for the game. “Sometimes young people need to learn a little bit.”NC State carries an 11-2 record into conference play, with its only losses to Creighton — currently in the top 10 in the AP Poll — and Illinois in the lone true road game. Three of the first four ACC games happen to be on the road at Miami, North Carolina and Boston College.But with a renewed vigor after going undefeated in December, State heads into the ACC with a six-game win streak in tow. The uptick in offense may be noticeable since Yurtseven’s debut, but Kapita focused in on the defensive prowess for the huge turnaround.”Our offense will always be there,” Kapita said. “Our offense, we’ve got a lot of options. But the key was the defense. I think we got better defensively, that’s the key. … We got lost on defense at times, didn’t want to move our feet. But we’re all on the same page now.”