Tony Haynes: Hot Shooting Translates To Wins
By Tony Haynes
Raleigh, N.C. – When it knocked off Wake Forest to notch its fifth ACC win of the season on Wednesday night, the Wolfpack shot 55.6 percent in the first half and 51 percent for the game.
While it’s impossible to predict when the Pack will play well, it has become fairly easy to know what NC State must do in a given game to put itself in a position to win. The road map, in other words, is now an easy one to follow. When the Wolfpack executes on offense and shoots well, it wins. When it doesn’t, it loses.
Sure, most teams are tough to beat when they shoot 50 percent or better, but several of the teams ahead of NC State in the standings have shown themselves to be strong enough to win even on nights when their shooting percentage dips below the 50 percent mark.
Six ACC teams – Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech, have won eight or more games when shooting below 50 percent. The Wolfpack’s record in such games is 4-11, a figure that ranks last in the league. On the flip side, the Pack is 10-2 when it makes at least half of its shots.
Needless to say, NC State (15-13, 5-10) will need more of the same on Saturday when it concludes its regular season on the road against a red-hot Maryland (23-7, 9-6) squad that has won six in a row.
Coach Sidney Lowe’s intuitive offensive mind combined with his line-up of versatile parts are the reasons NC State is hitting 49 percent from the floor, which is second only to UNC in the ACC.
Prior to sending his team up against the Wolfpack on Wednesday, Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser had already dissected the numbers.
“They’re really an interesting team,” Prosser said before Wednesday’s second meeting of the year between the Pack and Deacons. “Against us (on Jan. 13) they shot 61 percent. Up at Virginia Tech they get a great win by shooting 53 percent. They shot 61 percent against North Carolina, a pretty good defensive team. Then most recently, 67 percent against Virginia Tech. Three of their four wins are against teams that are tied for the best record in our conference at this time.”
Surely, Prosser quickly realized his team was in trouble on Wednesday when the Wolfpack came out and drained 11 of its first 14 shots to build an 11-point lead over the first eight minutes. Such offensive spurts are familiar to NC State fans, who saw their team make 10 of its first 11 shots against Virginia Tech a few weeks ago, and then come back to knock down 11 of 12 to begin the second half. In its first meeting with North Carolina on February 3, the Pack shot 76.5 percent in the second half.
And while such outbursts of offensive precision are awfully fun to watch, they are, unfortunately for Lowe and his staff, almost necessary since the Wolfpack is quite fragile in other areas of the game.
Wednesday’s game offered some evidence. Thanks to its high shooting percentage, the Pack managed to control the game most of the way and ultimately win by seven points despite allowing Wake to score 24 second chance points on 22 offensive rebounds. Amazingly, the Deacons really never really threatened to win even though they had 71 total shots compared to only 49 for NC State.
In fact, the Wolfpack has gotten up more shots than an ACC opponent only once, when it had three more shots than Maryland in its 85-70 loss to the Terps on February 14. It really didn’t matter in that case since Maryland hit 62.5 percent in the second half to win going away.
NC State’s shot-deficit is created by its shortcomings on the boards and its inability to force turnovers on the defensive end of the court. In conference games, the Wolfpack is dead last in rebound margin (-5) and turnover margin (-3.71).
The Pack’s opponents are averaging only 12 turnovers per game, a statistic that Lowe hopes to improve in coming years when he has more available bodies on the bench.
“I think you have to be able to put pressure on teams if you want to win big,” Lowe said. “You have to be able to force turnovers unless you have a team that’s just so good defensively that they can just lockdown and prevent people from scoring. You have to be able to press a little bit and get out in the passing lanes to cause some turnovers. I think we’ll get to that point as we add pieces to this ball club.”
For the time being, with five starters averaging more than 33 minutes per game, it would be humanly impossible for NC State to play the type of overplaying, denial perimeter defense that has worked so well for the Dukes and North Carolinas. Because of the Wolfpack’s depth issues, Lowe has no other choice but to employ a containment-oriented man-to-man strategy that is more conducive to protecting the paint instead of being disruptive on the perimeter.
Until help arrives over the next few seasons, halfcourt offensive execution will be the Pack’s meal ticket.
NC State Tries To Derail ACC’s Hottest Team: The Wolfpack will certainly have to be hitting on all cylinders against Maryland on Saturday and Lowe knows it.
“They playing aggressive and they’re shooting the ball well, but I think the main thing is they’re playing tough,” said the Pack’s first-year coach. “I think there’s a different between playing hard and playing tough. They’re just beating people up down low, whether it’s their bigs pounding the boards or blocking shots or their guards just being physical. They’re just out-toughing people.”
Clark Makes His Mark: Senior walk-on Justin Clark did more than just make a senior night cameo appearance when he got a start against Wake on Wednesday. In 15 minutes, the 6-4 senior from Charlotte made all three of his field goal tries for six points while also dishing out four assists. The performance will earn Clark a spot in the rotation on Saturday.“He’s not going to start for us but he’s definitely going to play,” Lowe said. “I think he’s earned that right. We don’t know what this thing is going to lead to but we certainly owe it to him to give him another shot at it and go from there. He played smart and he played tough. He was in there banging and getting rebounds and getting his hands on loose balls. He played a flawless game basically in what he did. We don’t know if he’s capable of duplicating that, but what we do know is that he’s going to be physical, he’s going to play hard and he’s going to be tough.”