RALEIGH — D.J. Funderburk, playing in his first game since Dec. 3 because of a bout with COVID-19, said that his NC State basketball team is right where it needs to be after Wednesday’s 79-76 win against Boston College at PNC Arena.
Coach Kevin Keatts doesn’t necessary agree with that assessment.
But after starting the ACC season with two straight wins for the first time since 2014-15, he’s not complaining, either.
“A lot of times those kids will repeat what their coach says,” Keatts said. “I don’t know if I said if we’re right where we needed to be, but I like where we are. We couldn’t have a better record in the ACC. I’m excited we’re 2-0.”
Funderburk scored 21 points in his return to action, one off his career high, while Jericolle Hellems bounced back from a subpar shooting performance against North Carolina last week to contribute 20 points to the Wolfpack’s latest victory.
With the win, State avoided its traditional hangover following a win against the Tar Heels.
The Wolfpack is just 3-12 in its next game after beating its Triangle rival since 1991. Three of those wins (in four tries) have come during Keatts’ four seasons with the program.
For awhile, this one looked like it might be easy. But things are rarely ever easy for State regardless of the circumstances.
The Wolfpack (6-1, 2-0 ACC) shot 56% from the floor, forced BC into 10 first half turnovers and built as much as a 15-point before going into halftime up 45-35.
But the combination of fatigue and foul trouble for Funderburk, a knee injury that sidelined fellow big man Manny Bates for the final 20 minutes and the Eagles’ hot shooting from 3-point range turned the runaway into a back-and-forth struggle down the stretch.
“First half, I don’t think they expected me to play as much. That’s kind of how the game felt to me,” said Funderburk, who scored 19 of his points before halftime. “In the second half, they made some adjustments trying to stop me and that slowed me down.”
It didn’t help matters that Funderburk and his teammates were just 5 of 10 from beyond the 3-point arc in the game and that the Wolfpack committed the bulk of its season-high 17 turnovers in the second half. That allowed the Eagles (2-6, 0-2) to slowly chip away at the lead.
With Wynston Tabbs and Jay Heath combining for seven of their team’s 10 treys — and Funderburk on the bench with four fouls for nearly five key minutes — BC came all the way back to go ahead for the first time at 68-66 with 5:34 remaining.
Tabbs and Heath had 18 and 17 points, respectively.
The lead changed hands four more times before freshman guard Shakeel Moore hit a clutch pullup jumper in the lane with 27.3 seconds remaining.
“I don’t know what other freshman would step up and take that shot with all those upperclassmen on the floor,” Keatts said. “But he stepped up and made a huge shot for us.”
Moore, the ACC’s Rookie of the Week after scoring 17 points in the win against UNC, then finished off this victory with a dunk just before the buzzer following a game-saving steal on the other end by teammate Devon Daniels. He had 12 points against BC.
“I put in work every day, in the gym after hours,” Moore said, adding that the confidence with which he’s playing “comes from me taking the time to work when nobody’s paying attention.”
At 2-0 in the ACC heading into next week’s showdown with equally surprising Clemson, the rest of the league might soon start paying more attention to Moore and his teammates.
“We had to really lock in for the last 3-4 minutes to pull out this win,” Funderburk said. “It shows a lot. It shows we’re really tough. It shows that everybody on our team can play and it shows that we come out and play hard every time.”