Wolfpack starts slowly, finishes strong in opening rout of Mount St. Mary’s

Torin Dorn scored 28 points and Markell Johnson added 17 as NC State pulled away in the second half for a 105-55 victory

Markell Johnson drives around Vado Morse of Mount St. Mary's during NC State's season opening basketball game on Tuesday (Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — With a roster full of new players, including three transfers seeing their first real action in more than a year, NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts expected his team to start slowly in its season opener against Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday.

And he wasn’t disappointed.

He was also anything but disappointed with the way the Wolfpack responded once it finally got settled in after halftime.

Led by holdovers Torin Dorn and Markell Johnson, State shot 65 percent from the floor, clamped down on defense and piled up a 20-rebound advantage in the second half to pull away for an encouraging 105-55 victory at PNC Arena.

“We got off to a shaky start, first game jitters, everybody’s excited to be out there,” said junior C.J. Bryce, who came to State with Keatts from UNC Wilmington. “But I feel like in the second half we really brought it together, played the defense we know we can play and came out with a great win.”

Bryce was one of four Wolfpack players to score in double figures, finishing with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting.

The two other traditional transfers, Devon Daniels from Utah and Blake Harris from Missouri looked a little less polished in their first game in red and white. Although Daniels finished with 10 points and Harris eight, neither really found their shooting rhythm while going a combined 6 for 18 from the floor (2 of 9 from 3-point range).

For all the excitement that the newcomers generated in their State debuts, it was the two healthy holdovers that did most of the heavy lifting on offense for the Wolfpack.

Dorn, a versatile 6-foot-5 senior who will be called upon to play all five positions on the floor at some point this season, scored 12 of career-high 28 points in the first half when his team was struggling to put the ball in the basket.

Johnson, a junior point guard known more for his playmaking than scoring, then ignited the second half surge with three 3-pointers over the final 20 minutes on his way to a 17-point, five-assist performance.

“I thought that when we were struggling, Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn stepped up and made a couple of big plays and played like guys who had played in the program last year,” Keatts said. “Also, I could say the same thing about C.J. Bryce.

“It’s important for the guys that played for me before to lead by example. I thought those three guys did.”

And not just on the offensive end of the court.

Providing energy to a full-court press that gained in intensity as the game went on, the trio of Dorn, Johnson and Bryce combined for eight of State’s 12 steals, leading to a 25-6 edge in points off turnovers.

“I told Markell with us being the two most experienced guys, we had to set the tone,” Dorn said. “He did a great job in the second half and we were able to carry that energy. You see the results.”

State had a hard time shaking the Mountaineers for the majority of the first half, before finally gaining a little separation and a 40-30 lead at the break. The margin stayed about the same for the opening five minutes of the second half before Johnson got hot and the Wolfpack took off.

All 10 of the State players that dressed for the game ended up scoring as Keatts experimented with numerous lineup combinations ranging from five guards to three smalls and two bigs.

The most effective of those bigs was junior college transfer D.J. Funderburk, who made all four of his field goal attempts while compiling nine points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.

Virtually everyone Keatts put on the floor in the second half made meaningful contributions to a closing surge that saw the Wolfpack outscore the Mountaineers 51-14 over the final 14½ minutes.

“That’s my vision of how I want us to play,” Keatts said. “I knew we would start out slow, but I was glad we could finish the game. I thought early on we had a couple of defensive breakdowns I wanted to clean up, but when we get out in transition and start playing, we can be a very good basketball team.”