NC State stays perfect in ACC play with home win over UVA

RALEIGH — NC State handled business at home Saturday afternoon at PNC Arena, defeating Virginia 76-60 to move to 3-0 in ACC play for the first time since 2013.

If there was any concern of the offensive struggles carrying over from the Notre Dame game, they were exorcised fairly swiftly as the Wolfpack (11-3; 3-0 ACC) hit 10 3-pointers and shot nearly 50% from the field against the Cavaliers (11-4; 2-2 ACC).

“When you score 76 points against a really good Virginia defense, you’re doing a good job,” said NC State coach Kevin Keatts. “We had 14 assists, we moved the ball, the ball didn’t stick. We made the extra pass, and I think that’s what helped us.”

Virginia entered the contest having the 10th-best adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, but there was little they could do against the Wolfpack’s attack.

Balance and opportunity was the name of the game for the Wolfpack as eight players picked up points — NC State’s bench outscored the Cavaliers 21-8 – and the team picked up nine second-chance points and nine off turnovers.

“One of the things we wanted to do after Christmas was help develop our bench,” Keatts said. “I’m asking guys to buy in and to play and take advantage of every minute they get when they’re in a game, and I think everybody is buying into that.”

While the offense was certainly good — 76 is the second-most points Virginia has allowed this season — the Wolfpack’s defense was just as good if not better.

NC State allowed just five 3-pointers all afternoon and held UVA to just 43% from the field. The Wolfpack also forced eight turnovers and allowed just two fast-break points.

“NC State is tough,” said UVA coach Tony Bennett. “Their 1s, 2s and 3s, defensively, really get after you and make it hard. With what they’ve added, they’re a dangerous team with the inside-outside attack and with their defensive tenacity.”

Early on, the Wolfpack did struggle a bit to find an offensive rhythm, however, they got the spark they needed a little over halfway through the opening frame as freshman Dennis Parker Jr. nailed a long 3-pointer on an inbound with less than 2 seconds left on the shot clock. 

“One of my best play calls of the year was to get Dennis Parker the ball at half-court with 1.4 seconds on the clock,” Keatts joked. “I just knew he was going to drain that. A great call.”

Following that basket, the Wolfpack came up with a few key defensive stops and Casey Morsell dropped a 3-pointer to start an 8-0 run for the Wolfpack, ultimately resulting in a seven-point lead at the half for NC State.

“I remember thinking, ‘He’s not going to make that,’ and then all of a sudden,” Bennett said. “You have to be able to handle that, it’s three points. Then there was a breakdown on the post-trap and a turnover, missed shot and then it separated. That was certainly a momentum swing. You felt the swing and you could see and feel it because it happened quick.”

It was fairly smooth sailing for the Wolfpack the rest of the way, as they outscored the Cavaliers 41-32 in the second half.

The final score doesn’t indicate how dominant NC State’s performance was. The Wolfpack were up by 21 points with five minutes remaining but took their foot off the gas to end it.

Parker and junior Jayden Taylor led the way for NC State with 15 points each, and graduate DJ Horne added 14.

“I think [Parker’s] just getting better,” Keatts said on the freshman. “We’ve played 14 games, and I think he’s just growing up. I think he’s understanding what I’m looking for. It’s because of the fact that he’s getting reps in practice, he’s starting to feel comfortable with the way we want him to play. He’s playing harder. At the beginning of the year, he was flying around then as a freshman, you hit a wall a little bit. Now, I think he’s coming back around because we’re in ACC play.”

Next up for the Wolfpack will be the first meeting of the year against rival UNC on Wednesday at PNC Arena.