Either NC State played like it was capable of beating any other college team in the nation, or Virginia Tech was hungover after defeating Duke in its previous game. Call it what you want, but the newly-ranked #21 Hokies defense couldn’t stop the Wolfpack on Wednesday night. More specifically, Dennis Smith Jr., who was “sensational”, according to coach Mark Gottfried.
For only the second time in NC State history, Smith registered a triple double, ending his stat line for the night with 27 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds. Former Wolfpack legend Julius Hodge was the last and only other person to complete the feat back in 2002, but Smith penned his own name in the history books with a statement game.
During the game on Twitter, Hodge asked Gottfried to sub him out, later tweeting that Smith would be an all-star in the NBA by the time he turns 22. And honestly, no one else wants to argue with that.
Terry Henderson said, “Top 5 pick right there. It’s unbelievable really.”
As unbelievable as Smith might be, the rest of the Pack played with the most energy that they have seemingly had so far all season.
It’s hard to put a single finger on what all went well for the Pack. With four minutes left in the first half, the team had a 22-point lead. There were steals, there were blocks, and there was a limited number of turnovers. Most importantly, shots went in. The team ended the game with a season-high 64% of field goals made throughout the game, with 62 points coming from inside the paint.
“It was a point of emphasis for us to get the ball in the paint,” Gottfried said. “With our size, we felt like we could go in there some. I thought we got some fast break opportunities. There were a lot of different ways we ended up there, but we did one way or another get the ball around the basket.”
What worked aside from getting the ball to the rim? Everything, according to Abdul-Malik Abu.
“It was just a good day,” said Abu. “Dennis led the way. He rebounded, he passed the ball, he scored, he defended. I’m proud of him. T Henny came out there shooting the lights out early. I just wanted to do my job early and finish with a win.”
Against Miami just four days ago, the Pack’s performance gave all of its fan base something to be concerned about. The next day, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi labeled the Pack as one of the first eight out from his NCAA tournament bracket. In the few days leading up to Wednesday’s game, Mark Gottfried told his team that they needed to live up to their potential.
For Henderson, he said that it was more about seeing how bad they actually looked after watching film.
“We had no energy or enthusiasm,” Henderson said. “When you see yourself doing those kind of things, you’re not going to let yourself do that again. We spent the past two days competing in practice, making sure what happened in Miami stayed down there. We weren’t bringing that back to Raleigh.”
And in Miami is exactly where a shaky looking Pack seemed to stay. A lackadaisical approach towards the game was replaced with a certain toughness and intensity that made it seem like the Miami loss was taken personally.
For Henderson, it was. He said that the Miami game was unacceptable, and that each one of the guys got on each other about what needed to happen for the rest of the time during ACC play in order to win games. Winning is all that really matters in Henderson’s opinion.
“Getting the win was the most important moment of the night,” Henderson said. “I just wanted to win more than anything. I felt like we needed to make a statement.”
Instead of giving his team a hard time, Gottfried encouraged them to compete better and harder. He said that the last few days at practice consisted of walking each player through his role on the team, in order to truly emphasize what was needed from each person.
“Dennis was sensational in just about every phase of the game,” Gottfried said. “Malik was terrific on the glass. Maverick gave us a great boost off the bench. Terry gave us great scoring. But then outside of that, I thought everybody that played contributed. Everybody did something positive.”
Maybe it was the limited number of turnovers. Or maybe it was starting Omer Yurtseven and having in finally pay off after a jumper, block, and rebound all occurred within the opening two minutes. Maybe it was finally getting to 100 points in regular season play for the first time since 2004.
Lastly, maybe it was the 9 pm start. Spanning several years back, NC State hasn’t fared well in 9 pm games at home. In the last two seasons, the Wolfpack is 3-1 with 9 pm tips. Against an 0-17 Boston College on March 2, 2016, Maverick Rowan sunk in a last second layup to give the Pack its only 9 pm win for the season.
Whatever the reason, Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams had something positive to say about almost every Pack player despite his team’s loss.
“I haven’t studied every team, but I told our group that I’m not sure if there are many, if any, more talented teams than they are,” Williams said.
In his post-game remarks, Smith echoed Williams in saying that “people are sleeping on us.” Even if that’s true, Smith isn’t worried.
“We’ve got a lot of good players on our team. We know what we have and what we can do,” Smith said.
When the Pack travels to Chapel Hill in two days, they will be tested early on the road against #16 UNC. Gottfried said that instead of focusing on one specific game, he’s been encouraging his players to instead hone in on what needs to happen individually to prevent sloppy play.
“It’s all about execution from here on out,” Gottfried said. “Against Miami, there were so many individual errors. We have to stay focused on what needs to happen for us to win.”
If the Pack can head to Chapel Hill with the same mentality that it showed against UNC, go ahead and cancel your previous Saturday night plans.