Dennis Smith Jr. proves hes worthy of the hype in record-setting ACC home opener

Freshman matches Julius Hodge with second triple-double in NC State history

Rob Kinnan—USA Today Sports
North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) reacts after a basket during the second half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at PNC Arena. The Wolfpack won 104-78.

RALEIGH — Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t wait long to add his name to the NC State record books in ACC play. In his first conference home game, the freshman from Fayetteville became the second Wolfpack player to record a triple-double, producing an eye-popping line with 26 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals on Wednesday night in a 104-78 win over Virginia Tech.The only other player to achieve such a feat? None other than Julius Hodge.Hodge’s came against North Carolina A&T (11 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) while Smith’s was against the No. 21 Virginia Tech Hokies. That marks the first ever for NC State against an ACC opponent. Meanwhile, Hodge was openly pleading with Mark Gottfried to sub him out on Twitter. Smith’s thoughts?”Tell Jules to stop hatin’, man,” Smith said with a laugh.Gottfried clearly never had that thought, playing Smith 34 minutes before pulling him after the triple-double.”He’s such an electric player and tonight he did just about everything,” Gottfried said. “He handled the ball against the press, rebounded the ball, created shots for other people and scored the ball. … Every game is an opportunity for him to take a step forward. Tonight I thought he took a huge step forward.”Smith’s coming out party to the rest of the ACC was part of a historic night for NC State as a whole. The Wolfpack’s over the Hokies marked the first time it reached 100 points in an ACC game since Feb. 27, 1991 against Maryland.Abdul-Malik Abu went a perfect 9-for-9 from the field with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Terry Henderson hit four 3-pointers to finish with 22 points. Maverick Rowan had 13 points and tied his career-high with four assists.But the night clearly belonged to Smith, who was unable to be defended by a team that ranked 47th in defensive efficiency coming into the game.”I’ve seen him a lot, but never coached against him,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said. “Don’t know if any of my coaching was effective against him tonight. He’s deserving of all the hype.”That hype has been building around Smith all season, but he’s constantly silenced any doubters. His 20-plus point outing was his eighth of the season. He’s totaled five or more assists in 11 games, including seven straight and even a 16-assist game against Rider. His 6.5 assists per game ranks first in the ACC.Smith’s mystique, however, is about much more than his stats. Taking on a leadership role as a freshman isn’t easy, but he’s made it look easy. Henderson tried to explain what makes Smith so spectacular, but came up with only one answer.”He’s not normal, man,” Henderson said. “He’s one of a kind, for real. He understands that and doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s the most humble kid I know, but still wants to get better. … It probably hasn’t hit him yet, but that’s a big deal.”If there was one blemish on Smith’s night, it was his free-throw shooting performance. In his last three games, Smith has shot 23-for-45 from the charity stripe despite averaging 22.3 points over that stretch. To combat that, he told an NC State official he would be heading straight to the Dail Center to shoot free throws that night.The game ended after 11 p.m. Smith wasn’t finished with his post-game requirements until 11:30 p.m. His commitment to the game is obvious. The reaction from his teammates in the locker room proves they appreciate that commitment.”I just got mobbed by the whole team in there,” Smith said. “They were happy for me. That’s where the teamwork starts, with everybody being genuinely happy for one another. Whenever you can do that, great things will happen.”