Before heading to St. Thomas to play in the Paradise Jam on Wednesday, it was vital for the Wolfpack to work out some of the kinks that were apparent in its home opener against Georgia Southern.
Last season, the Pack lost its first game at PNC Arena to William and Mary’s Tribe. On Friday night, they were tested against Georgia Southern and the team’s ability to switch up its defenses throughout the game. Winning by only two points against the Eagles, a few of the Pack’s obvious weaknesses showed up. Some of those included foul trouble, lack of rebounding and missed 3-pointers. On Sunday, head coach Mark Gottfried tried to eliminate a few of those problems.
“Obviously you want to win, and then within that you hope that you can really improve on some things,” Gottfried said.
A question that looms for the Pack’s offense seems to be whether or not starting four guards is sufficient enough to win games with a team that’s still learning.
Good news came after the Friday’s game, however, when 6-8 freshman forward Ted Kapita was deemed eligible by the NCAA having been cleared academically. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kapita’s inability to play in the season opener forced Gottfried to play small – something that worked well for the team in both of its exhibition games, but didn’t pan out as well in the first game.
Freshman Dennis Smith Jr. Smith was limited with his shot against the zone on Friday, and then got into foul trouble on Sunday afternoon. Regardless, Gottfried said that his point guard bounced back well.
“Dennis had some foul trouble, and I liked the fact that Dennis had to learn how to play with some foul issues and he did a good job there. I left him in the game on purpose,” Gottfried said. “I wanted him to play without fouling, and he ended up getting his fourth down there in front of their bench. There may be times where he’s got to play with some foul issues, and you’ve got to be smart, but I think he did a good job.”
During its home opener, the Pack was out-rebounded, and lost the battle from beyond the arch. Help would come from redshirt senior Terry Henderson and sophomore Maverick Rowan to close out the contest on Friday night, finishing with 23 and 17 points respectively. Unfortunately, Rowan ended up not playing on Sunday as a result of concussion-like symptoms after the game against Georgia Southern.
On Sunday against St. Francis (Brooklyn), Gottfried took a different approach by starting junior Abdul Malik Abu and senior BeeJay Anya to try and eliminate some of the team’s rebounding troubles.
Nonetheless, it would be Kapita who stole the show when Gottfried decided to put the freshman in for his debut with roughly five and a half minutes left in the first half. It might have been enough for Gottfried to rethink his approach to a four-guard lineup. Possessing the ability to take away playing time from some of the others looking to have a breakout season, Kapita’s energy was contagious.
“Finally man, you know, I worked so hard. I was patiently waiting for my time to come. I had a chance today. I went in there and did whatever I had to do to win,” Kapita said.
Finishing on Sunday with 17 points and eight rebounds, Kapita’s points ranked as the seventh-most in a freshmen debut in NC State history. With that being said, the freshman expects to play that kind of game every night. Kapita stressed that he doesn’t care who’s on the floor or who the Pack is playing against. He only wants to play well for his ‘family’ who have taken the form of his teammates.
“When my lawyer texted me and told me I was eligible my teammates got pumped up, so everybody couldn’t wait to see me play. They said, ‘Whatever you score – dunks, layups, whatever you do, you’ve gotta point to us so we know you’re there man, because we couldn’t wait for you’, Kapita said. “That’s a great feeling, because everybody on the team wants to see me do good in life. I have a family here in them. My teammates are my family, so I do everything for them and we play together to try to win every game.”
No one was more pleased with Kapita’s performance than his coach, though.
“What a first great night for Ted Kapita. Wow. I mean, he comes in there and plays with great energy, he’s got enthusiasm, he gets rebounds, he also concentrates and puts the ball in the basket. Sometimes big guys will get bumped, and he just finds a way to still put it in the basket. He made his foul shots as well,” Gottfried said.
Closing out the game better
Learning how to trust each other on both sides of the ball, the Pack was able to execute better down the straight against the Terriers. The Pack’s defense looked sharper as well, limiting St. Francis to 32 percent shooting with only three 3-pointers in the second half of Sunday’s game.
“It’s never going to be any situation where we can’t play with any five on the court. We’re a deep team and I think we can go as far as our defense lets us,” redshirt sophomore Torin Dorn said.
Even so, not all was pretty. During its game against Georgia Southern, the Pack went 4 for 24 from the 3-point line. Those troubles continued during Sunday’s game, missing 23 3-pointers in a row before Dorn hit the first of the contest with 9:07 left to play. However, Dorn said that’s not something to be concerned about, as the team didn’t attempt many early 3’s.
Gottfried agreed, stating that Maverick Rowan not playing could be the reason for the lack of 3’s in the contest.
“I think holding him out is the right thing to do. You take away the 3-point threat out of our lineup, and I thought everybody else did well,” Gottfried said.
As the Pack leaves for the U.S Virgin Islands this week, the team will have to be aware of its foul troubles. On Friday night, both Abu and Anya had four fouls apiece. On Sunday, it was Smith with four. In order to have a successful frontcourt, the team will have to limit these numbers. The good news for NC State is the fact that Kapita was able to post near double numbers without a single foul.
If the Pack continues to clean up its game using all of the team’s weapons alongside playing effective defense, the journey to St. Thomas should end up being more of a vacation instead of a business trip.