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    Tony Haynes: Pack Adds Johnson For Davidson Game
     
     

    BY TONY HAYNES

     

    Raleigh, N.C. Given the fact that NC State used 10 players including nine that played double-figure minutes in last Saturday’s 74-49 victory over South Carolina State, the Wolfpack isn’t necessarily a team that is in dire need of adding an extra body.

     

    But when the Pack (5-3) hosts dangerous Davidson (4-5) at the RBC Center Friday night at 7 p.m., it will indeed have another player vying for minutes in its already crowded rotation.

     

    After sitting out one year to accommodate the NCAA’s mandatory transfer rule, Marques Johnson is now eligible to run with the Pack. But whether that means the Tennessee transfer will actually see some playing time in the immediate future is another story. A 6-5 point guard, Johnson will be joining a backcourt that already includes lead guards Farnold Degand and freshman Javier Gonzalez. And while Degand has logged most of the minutes at the point this season, he actually played only 17 minutes against South Carolina State, six fewer than Gonzalez.

     

    As of Thursday, NC State head coach Sidney Lowe wasn’t quite sure what role Johnson would be playing in the immediate future.

     

    “We’re already playing nine or 10 guys, so it’s tough to say minutes-wise what he’ll get,” Lowe said. “The nice thing is knowing he is available. You never know when the opportunity might present itself.”

     

    As a freshman at Tennessee, Johnson played four games early last season before making the decision to go elsewhere. He landed at NC State in December and has been practicing with the Wolfpack ever since. Rated the nation’s 42nd best prospect coming out of Snider High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Johnson averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists his senior year.

     

    He has three years of eligibility remaining.

     

    While Johnson was sitting out NC State’s first seven games, Degand, a former transfer himself, was given the opportunity to adjust to live competition after fulfilling his transfer rule obligations.

     

    “There’s a big difference because the intensity level is a lot different in a game than it is in practice,” Lowe said. “The crowd is there, so there’s a little more pressure to do well. When you haven’t played in a live game for a year or so, there’s quite an adjustment when you get out there. I think Farnold has handled it well. Marques is going to go through the same thing. Just the fact that he’s going to be suited up and out there with his guys, that’s going to be a treat and a thrill for him.”

     

    Johnson isn’t as speedy and quick as Degand or Gonzalez, meaning his style is quite different than the two players currently ahead of him.

     

    “He’s a steady type of run the show point guard,” said Lowe. “He’ll get you into your offense, defend, hustle; it’s nothing flashy. He’s just going to come in and work hard for you. That’s all we’ll ask him to do.”

     

    With games against Davidson, Cincinnati and Seton Hall coming up within a six-day period, the Wolfpack is about to enter into a challenging stretch that could be quite revealing. Will the Pack show improvement in the next week or it will it slip into the disjointed habits that proved so costly in losses to New Orleans, Michigan State and East Carolina?

     

    “This is a very tough stretch, no question about it,” Lowe said. “These next three ballgames will tell a lot I think. Right now with this game tomorrow, I want to see how we come out of the gates with energy and focus to get off to a good start. Can we keep our focus, our concentration and that effort of playing defense and getting stops when you need to?”

     

    Having already pushed top 10 opponents North Carolina, Duke and UCLA to the limit, Davidson has proven it can hang with the best teams in the country. The Wildcats were only a few late missed layups away from stunning the Tar Heels in Charlotte back on November 14, and led UCLA by 18 in the first half before eventually falling 75-63.

     

    Three Davidson regulars are shooting better than 40 percent from the 3-point line, including Stephen Curry, who averages 24 points per game. Curry is the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, an ex-pro teammate of Lowe’s.

     

    “We’re going to try to play strong, tough man-to-man defense,” Lowe said. “He’s one of those players that you just don’t leave him. If you’re two-feet away from him, that’s too far. It’s a tough job and we’re going to need more than one guy to defend him because he’s constantly moving and they’re constantly setting screens for him and he does a good job of reading the screens. He has a little step-back move he uses to clear some space and all he needs is a look.”

     

    The two teams are diametric opposites in what they’re trying to accomplish on offense. With 279 3-point attempts in nine games, Davidson has taken 153 more 3-point shots than NC State. Of course, the Wolfpack will counter with an inside attack led by freshman sensation J.J. Hickson, who averages 18 points per game leads in the ACC in field goal percentage (71.2 percent).

     

    Lowe hopes his team’s excellent defense against the 3-point shot continues on Friday. In eight games, the Wolfpack has held its opponents to just 33.3 percent from the arc.

     

    “When you look at the statistics, our opponents are shooting only 38 percent,” Lowe said. “That’s pretty good. We’ve been able to get stops at times and defend people for the most part this year and we have guarded that three line real well. If we can continue to hold people to just 38 percent shooting, we should be ok. Of course, we have to make some shots, which has been a struggle for us at times.”

     

    This will be the 82nd meeting between NC State and Davidson, but the first since 1995. The Wolfpack holds a 68-13 advantage in the all-time series.


     

     

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