RALEIGH — In a week when NC State honored the 1983 National Championship team on its 40th anniversary, Kevin Keatts wanted a perfect finish.
“For me, it was a very special game,” said the NC State coach. “Having the ’83 team back for the last couple of days and a few of those guys came to practice yesterday and they were able to share some knowledge with our players and then they were having dinner last night and I stopped by and had good conversations and was able to talk with them.
“We want to win every game, of course, but I wanted these guys’ experience over the last couple of days to be perfect, and from my standpoint, perfect was being able to win on the night that they were going to be honored.”
Keatts’ team came through with the win, as Jarkel Joiner and DJ Burns combined for 50 points and the Wolfpack outpaced the Wake Forest 90-74 Wednesday night at PNC Arena.
Early on it was raining buckets, a display both coaches likened to a game of HORSE as each side went blow for blow in an offensive deluge with no defense in sight.
“The first half, we didn’t do a good job of defending the 3-point line,” Keatts said.
Both teams shot over 65% from the field and, despite Wake Forests’ decisive 9-2 edge in 3-pointers, the Pack led by six at the half.
But coming out of halftime, the Wolfpack was seemingly the only team that made adjustments. NC State continued its torrid scoring pace, but Wake came back down to earth.
“I thought we lost them in the first half,” Keatts said. “Appleby came out ready to play, but I thought we made some adjustments. We started pressuring a little more and made the passes a little bit tougher for those guys to make those plays.”
The Deacons, on the other hand, had no response for what the Wolfpack were doing on offense.
“We don’t defend,” Forbes said. “We’re not a great defensive team and I don’t think that’s any secret, and that’s why we’re not an NCAA Tournament team right now. Because to win in the NCAA Tournament and go to the tournament, you’ve gotta do both. You’ve gotta score and you’ve gotta defend. We’re as good an offensive team as there is in the league, ain’t no doubt about that. But you’ve gotta do other things.
“Defensive transition. Get your ass back. If you’re not going to offensive rebound — we got four, had two in the first half — then get back. I’m not happy about that.”
The biggest issues for the Demon Deacons came courtesy of the Wolfpack’s new official sponsor: the NCAA transfer portal.
No team in the country is getting more contributions from the portal the NC State with Joiner and Burns. The duo has solidified the Wolfpack in the backcourt and up front, turning the team into a true ACC contender and ending any talk of Keatts being on the hot seat in Raleigh.
“The great thing about the portal is that you can be really picky,” Keatts said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to get them, but you can pick and recruit the guys that you think you need to fill a great need. We had a tremendous hole at the point guard position and one at the 5. I wanted to get great personality kids, that were great people and that would fit our culture both on and off the court, and they fit us.”
Burns, who also had two steals and drew six fouls, finished with 21 points, and Joiner was a force at both ends of the court and scored 29.
“[Joiner] is a really good defensive player,” Keatts said. “He actually starts our defense because he’s at the beginning of it and he really gets out there a little bit. He typically has the best offensive guard on the other team.”
Joiner has become the heart and soul of this Wolfpack team, and as he goes, so too does the Pack.
“I love Joiner’s mentality. His toughness,” Forbes said. “He’s an all-elite guard. He might be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. I’m really impressed with the way he moves his feet. I know he can score. He was the best player on the court, but I’m really impressed with the way he moves his feet defensively. “
Forbes was also high on NC State’s big man.
“I don’t think I’ve played against too many post players that post up way outside the 3-point-line,” Forbes said on Burns. “I’ve been coaching a long time, played against some lottery bigs, but I’ve never seen that. We didn’t go to the double team to start the game and, obviously, he had his way there early. He’s got great touch. I think he’s the best scoring big in the league, and he enjoys passing and that’s the problem. If you go down there [and double team him], you’re going to leave somebody open.”
Both teams also had players exit with injuries. NC State’s Jack Clark fell hard onto the court after a dunk and was later seen in a sling, and Wake Forest’s Damari Monsanto left with a knee injury.
Neither coach had an update on either player, but Forbes stated that Monsanto would have an MRI in the coming days.
As NC State continues to hold out as North Carolina’s top team, Wake is seemingly all but finished for any chance of making it to the NCAA Tournament outside of winning the ACC Tournament.
“I’m disappointed in the game tonight because we had two opportunities — at Miami and at here tonight — to win a Quad 1 game and we didn’t do it,” Forbes said. “We don’t get Quad 1 games at home. We’re not the Big 12. Every game in the Big 12 is a Quad 1. Don’t ask me how, but it is. We don’t get that, so we need to win on the road.”