NC State basketball gets another shot at No. 9 North Carolina, hopes not to miss again

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

It’s easy for N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts to analyze and dissect the Wolfpack’s 67-54 loss to North Carolina earlier this season.

UNC coach Hubert Davis said the Tar Heels played “elite”defense in that game at PNC Arena. Keatts agrees.

With the Wolfpack missing shot after shot in the second half, it affected the Pack’s defense. Keatts agrees.

Wolfpack guard Jayden Taylor put it another way after the game: “It ultimately led to us kind of playing soft, which we can’t do.”

Certainly not Saturday. Not against the No. 9 Heels (22-6, 14-3 ACC) at the Smith Center. There will be no room for any softness in the Wolfpack’s play if it hopes to win its first game in Chapel Hill since January 2018.

The Pack (17-11, 9-8) set a bit of history — the bad kind — in the first game this season. It shot 27.3% from the field, said to be the worst against UNC in at least 70 years.

It was a two-point game at halftime, the Heels leading 30-28. But the Pack’s bad shooting continued in the second half and UNC used a 19-4 run to break it open.

“I thought they played really good defense,” Keatts said Friday, “I think D.J. Horne wasn’t D.J. Horne at the time.”

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (5) defends N.C. State’s D.J. Burns Jr. (30) in the first half on Wednesday, January 10, 2024 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The Tar Heels held burns to 11 point in their 67-54 victory.
North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (5) defends N.C. State’s D.J. Burns Jr. (30) in the first half on Wednesday, January 10, 2024 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The Tar Heels held burns to 11 point in their 67-54 victory.

Not the Horne who later put together a torrid six-game streak in which the transfer from Arizona State averaged 27.5 points. The graduate guard had 31 points against Wake Forest and 32 against Syracuse in that run, albeit both Wolfpack losses.

Horne has tailed off since, getting 13 points in a win over Boston College and 15 in the road loss this week at Florida State and going 12-of-32 from the field in the two games. But he has moved to second in the ACC in scoring (19.4) behind UNC’s R.J. Davis (22.1), who is coming off a career-best 42-point game against Miami.

Horne, a Raleigh native, was so pumped for the first UNC game that he said he watched replays of the Pack’s 77-69 victory over the Heels in 2021-22 about 10 times.

But Horne was 2-of-16 shooting, scoring six points in his first State-Carolina game. He did lead the Pack with nine rebounds but was 0-3 on his 3-pointers as the Wolfpack finished 2-for-20 from 3.

“When we couldn’t make shots we couldn’t get into any type of pressure, the way we play,” Keatts said. “I thought we were very effective when we were able to do that.

“But we gave up 18 points in transition and Harrison Ingram was incredible.”

Ingram, the versatile transfer from Stanford, had 19 rebounds, the most ever by a UNC player against State — Armando Bacot and former All-America Billy Cunningham each had 18. The 6-7, 235-pound forward was a matchup problem for the Pack in January and should be again Saturday.

“I thought he really did a good job,” Keatts said of Ingram. “In round one, as weird as it sounds, I thought we did a really good job on Bacot and we did a good job on R.J.”

Davis had 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting and Bacot had nine points and five rebounds in 24 minutes — all numbers Keatts would like to see again Saturday.

North Carolina’s Jalen Washington and Harrison Ingram pressure N.C. State’s DJ Burns Jr. during the first half of the Tar Heels’ 67-54 win at PNC Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C.
North Carolina’s Jalen Washington and Harrison Ingram pressure N.C. State’s DJ Burns Jr. during the first half of the Tar Heels’ 67-54 win at PNC Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C.

The Pack’s Mo Diarra and Ben Middlebrooks could get more playing time than in January’s game. Diarra has emerged as a relentless rebounder who can provide some offense and Middlebrooks has earned more minutes with his energy and toughness.

Keatts called Davis’ game against Miami “incredible” and said the shooting guard is playing at such a high level.

“And he’s doing it in so many different ways,” Keatts said. “With the ball in his hands, off ball screens, catch-and-shoot opportunities, transition. He is playing the best basketball of anybody in this league.

“But they’re so much more than R.J. You can’t have him go off and then have Cormac Ryan hitting shots. Throughout the last four or five games, you have had four or five guys who have really stepped up and played well.”

The Pack no longer is being mentioned in any NCAA Tournament discussions. It was No. 80 in the NCAA NET rankings Friday and No. 74 in the KenPom.com rankings.

But UNC will be a Quad-1 opponent. Duke will be a Quad-1 opponent Monday at PNC Arena. Pittsburgh will be a Quad-1 in the final regular-season game next Saturday.

“A Quad-1 opportunity moves the needle,” Keatts said. “But we don’t ever think they’re we’re out, because we do have three opportunities left to help us, and then you also have the ACC Tournament.

“We’ve got a tough back-end schedule but you want that, if you have the opportunity to move the needle.”