Pack finally peaking with all its pieces ahead of ACC play

With Omer Yurtseven joining the fold and Maverick Rowan finding his stroke, NC State is finding its stride before crucial stretch

Thursday night was a special one for NC State basketball. Not just because Omer Yurtseven was in uniform, but because the team was whole. Nine games into the season, the Wolfpack finally featured all the pieces head coach Mark Gottfried assembled in the offseason.After primarily playing with a seven-man rotation for the last eight games, both Maverick Rowan and Yurtseven played significant minutes against Appalachian State. The 97-64 blowout win also saw six players — four of whom weren’t on the roster last season — score double-digit points.”I think there’s a little bit of a feel like this is kind of a new beginning,” Gottfried said. “I think most teams are whole from the beginning. We’re starting to feel like we’re getting a lot more pieces together. … We’re going to go through a period right now we wish we had gone through in November, but it is what it is and we’ve got to get ourselves whole and ready.”NC State was once again paced by Dennis Smith Jr., who had a game-high 22 points, six assists and three steals. Rowan also regained his stroke with 13 points, giving NC State a more complete backcourt to go along with Torin Dorn and Terry Henderson.With two international players like Yurtseven and Ted Kapita clogging up the inside added to Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya, the Pack has size to compete in the paint. And with four big men to share minutes, Gottfried has players competing for spots rather than being given them.”The best thing about our team right now is there’s competition at a lot of different spots,” Gottfried said. “Competition is going to make our team better. I think our players know that.”One player who will really battle for playing time is senior forward BeeJay Anya. Already averaging his lowest average minutes per game (15.8) since his freshman season, Anya will likely be moved to a strictly bench role with Yurtseven in the fold.But in his final game before Yurtseven’s seeing his first action, Anya was the star in the win over Tennessee State. His 12 points, seven blocks and career-high 14 rebounds were enough to instill confidence in Gottfried that he has depth at the position.That game earned him a starting spot against App State during Yurtseven’s premiere. He didn’t score a single bucket, but hauled in six rebounds and had another huge block.”I thought it was important how BeeJay played the other night,” Gottfried said. “One thing I was really proud of with BeeJay was there were some games where he didn’t play a lot and his attitude was never negative. He was positive every day in practice. I think he wants to contribute any way possible.”Not every opponent will be No. 283 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings like the Mountaineers, so pretending NC State doesn’t have work to do is naive. But given the pieces it now has to work with, the team already looks more complete after waxing the lowly Mountaineers.The 33-point win was a far cry from the typical State home win this year. After sneaking out by a combined total of eight points against Georgia Southern, Loyola and Boston University at PNC and going to overtime with Tennessee State at Reynolds, blowouts have few and far between.”For the first time, we have all the parts back,” Yurtseven said. “Now we’re trying to get used to each other and be ready for whatever challenge is coming at us. … I can’t say it’s going to be perfect, but it’s going to get better every day.”NC State was far from perfect against App State, but its offense and defense saw a massive boost with more talent and depth. Given time and more substantial challenges when ACC play roles around, this team finally looks like it has the pieces to make a statement in January.