GREENSBORO — After being deficient in it for a few games, NC State got just what the doctor ordered; a healthy dose of Vitamin ‘T’ as the Wolfpack rolled to a 97-77 win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday at the ACC Tournament
Sophomore guard Terquavion Smith was electric all night, scoring 30 points on 11-for-13 (84.6%) shooting from the field and 5 for 7 (71.4%) from beyond the arc.
The Wolfpack emerged with purpose to start the game, with a stop on defense immediately followed by Smith nailing a 3-pointer at the other end.
“I knew I was going to go off before the first shot,” Smith said. “I had good preparation and I’ve been putting in a lot of work. I had been struggling, so the motivation I got from my team and my teammates and coaches.”
In fact, both members of the Wolfpack’s backcourt were feeling it, combining for 50 of NC State’s 97 points, the most scored by any team in the tournament so far.
“They were tremendous,” said NC State coach Kevin Keatts. “Guard play takes you a long ways, and I thought those guys were really special tonight. They complemented each other. We haven’t had a game probably like this where they both were on in the same game. They’ve had good games, and then one guy was OK, and then another guy would have a big game. As we talk about all the time, I tell them to see what you’re capable of. When those two guys are playing great together, then they’re really tough to stop.”
Smith had been in a shooting rut for the final four games of the regular season, and his cold spell had contributed significantly in the losses to Clemson and Duke. But when Smith is on as he was against the Hokies, the Wolfpack are as tough an out as any team in the conference.
“I took it kind of personally, playing bad,” Smith said. “I felt like I wasn’t putting myself in the right situations to be successful, and that comes with preparation and being ready for the game. Getting proper rest and taking care of your body. I took that into consideration, and it showed.”
His running mate, Jarkel Joiner, has taken on the mantle of not only team leader but also the Wolfpack’s most consistent player. So while Smith grabbed the spotlight in NC State’s first game of the tournament, it was Joiner’s complete game that pushed his team in the right direction.
Not only did the graduate guard put up 20 points, but he also had 10 assists and seven rebounds, coming just a few rebounds shy of a triple-double.
It wasn’t just the backcourt for NC State — there were contributions up and down the lineup.
Four different players had double-digit points, Casey Morsell and Greg Gantt provided stellar defense and moved the ball well, and even when DJ Burns Jr. subbed out early after two quick fouls, Ebenezer Dowuona put up solid minutes.
Dowuona set a new career high in points with 11 just in the first half alone, adding two blocks and three rebounds.
“When you’re playing a tournament, some of your better players are not going to play well all the time,” Keatts said. “Sometimes that can be a blessing. I thought EB did a great job when DJ didn’t have the best game, but we’re going to need everybody in this tournament, and that’s why I wanted to play the best as much as I could just because it’s a long week.
“In order to move on and advance to the next game, you’ve got to have everybody ready to play, and I’ve talked to (Dowuona) about staying ready, and I thought he did a good job.”
All that success came on a night when Burns couldn’t find his rhythm. He struggled in the matchup with Virginia Tech’s Justyn Mutts, who was far and away the Hokies best player on the court.
But as Keatts said, it’s a long tournament and the limited minutes may turn out to be a blessing in the long run for Burns.
Injury already struck the Wolfpack this postseason whenGantt went down in the final seconds of the first half with a knee injury.
He returned to the bench in the second half with a large brace and crutches. Keatts did not have an update on his status.
It will be a significant loss, especially with Thursday’s matchup against Clemson, a team that has had NC State’s number this year, as the Tigers , winning both games by double-digits.
But all the Wolfpack can do is keep their memories short and bring the same intensity tomorrow.
“I feel like we’re a team that can go far in March into the NCAA Tournament, but coach told us to focus on the next game, so that’s what we’re doing,” Joiner said.