The next big intrastate ACC matchup is just around the corner, with NC State set to travel to Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday for a game with conference and NCAA Tournament implications.
While the Wolfpack (15-5, 5-4 in the ACC ahead of their home matchup against Notre Dame on Tuesday) and Wake Forest (14-6, 6-3 in the ACC before Wednesday’s game at Pitt) both play a conference game before the Saturday showdown, the Tobacco Road meeting will be key for both teams.
With the middle of the ACC standings tightly packed, every potential Quad 1/Quad 2 win can boost a team’s resume, a reality the Deacons are all too familiar with given their NCAA snub a year ago.
Both teams have had big contributions from their transfer portal additions.
“It just gives you some guys that are ready to play,” Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said of the portal. “Not that freshmen aren’t ready, it just might take them a little bit longer just based on the level of competition that we’re playing in the nonconference and ACC. You try to get the best players that you can get, and you don’t settle. The portal gives you a chance to get a little bit older, and older is pretty good when you’re playing in a league like this.”
While DJ Burns and Jarkel Joiner have allowed NC State to spread the floor a bit more and diversify their scoring, Wake is getting a huge boost from Florida transfer Tyree Appleby, who leads the Deacons in scoring.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without Ty Appleby,” Forbes said. “He’s a tremendous player and one of the best players in the ACC and in the country.”
The similarities don’t stop there, as each team enters the week coming off a tough loss.
NC State came up short at UNC, and a big reason was foul trouble. Coach Kevin Keatts’ aggressive defensive style leads to plenty of points off turnovers, but the fouls have become an issue. The Tar Heels outscored the Wolfpack at the free-throw line 36-12, so a key moving forward for NC State will be limiting the number of fouls the team is committing.
“I thought throughout the game we did some good stuff,” Keatts said. “I thought defensively we were very stingy. If you take away the amount of free throws that they made versus what we did, we made six more field goals, we actually made one more 3. I know they scored 81 points, but from a field goal percentage (perspective), we played a really good defensive game.”
The Wolfpack also hope that star guard Terquavion Smith will be able to make it back for the game after he was stretchered off the court due to an injury against the Tar Heels on Saturday night.
In the second half in Chapel Hill, Smith went up for a basket and took a hard foul from UNC forward Leaky Black, causing the ACC’s leading scorer to crash down on the court. Black was ejected from the game.
Smith seems to have avoided any major injury after an official statement from the team confirmed his status.
“Due to the report of neck pain, medical procedure required the use of a backboard and stretcher to move [Smith],” the statement said. “Smith was taken to UNC Medical Center and all X-rays taken Saturday night were negative. He was released from the hospital and returned to Raleigh. Smith’s playing status is day-to-day.”
If his status is truly day-to-day, that’s the best possible news for a team that still has NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Wake will be looking to avenge the loss of their perfect home record, which was tarnished by the ACC’s top-ranked team, No. 7 Virginia.
“Defensively, we weren’t very good in the first half,” Forbes said. “But I thought in the second half we were really good. We only gave up two two-point field goals to Virginia in the second half, and both of those were dunks. So if you told me we were only going to give up two two-point field goals in the second half to Virginia, I would have thought we won.”
While the Deacons outpaced the Cavaliers in the second half, the biggest issue for Wake was the success of Virginia from beyond the arc. UNA shot 44.1% for the game, so Wake Forest will need to slow the Wolfpack’s dynamic backcourt — if Smith plays —to avoid a repeat of last Saturday’s loss.