Kevin Keatts was extolling N.C. State’s “great” losses recently.
Seven of the Wolfpack’s eight losses are to teams in the top 25 of the NCAA’s NET rankings. The only loss that wasn’t?
N.C. State paid Wake Forest back on Sunday for that particular hiccup with a 94-74 breezer. Junior guard Markell Johnson scored 25 points to lead N.C. State to its 20th win of the season.
Johnson, who missed the 71-67 loss at Wake Forest on Jan. 15 with a back injury, made a career-high six 3-pointers.
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“He was locked in,” Keatts said of Johnson. “He was obviously the difference in the game.”
Freshman Jericole Hellems added 14 points for N.C. State (20-8, 8-7 ACC) , which has won 13 of the 14 past meetings with the Demon Deacons (10-16, 3-11) at PNC Arena.
Four of N.C. State’s losses are to teams in the top 10 of the NET. After a recent win over Syracuse, Keatts said: “I hate to say this, but we’ve got great losses. I don’t know what that means but we’ve got great losses.”
The loss to the Deacs, No. 192 in the NET rankings, was the only exception. Wake’s struggles are so bad this season, even after a midweek win at Notre Dame, that Sunday’s game was actually a “Quadrant 4” game.
That puts Wake in the same category as early-season fodder Saint Peter’s, USC Upstate and Maryland-Eastern Shore for the Wolfpack.
Johnson, who has started to find his rhythm after a three-game absence in January, wouldn’t let Wake duplicate its upset from Winston-Salem.
“They got us good the first game at their house,” Johnson said. “We had to come back and split it. We couldn’t go 0-2 against them.”
Johnson was active early and on the mark from the 3-point line. He made five 3-pointers in the first half, which equaled his season-high. He finished 9 of 13 from the floor (6 of 9 from 3) and had six rebounds and three assists.
He had a dribble shimmy-and-shake to lose Brandon Childress and give N.C. State a 41-30 lead with 1:02 left in the half.
“When we were struggling to score, he raised up and made a bunch of shots,” Keatts said. “I thought he was really good.”
Johnson’s 3 at 16:00 in the second half started a 10-0 run for the Wolfpack, which saw its lead balloon to 56-41.
Freshman Jaylen Hoard led Wake Forest with 17 points. The Deacs were missing forward Olivier Sarr. Sarr, who missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, had 14 points and five rebounds in Wake’s 75-68 win at Notre Dame on Tuesday.
Senior Torin Dorn added a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Devon Daniels followed up his breakout game against Boston College with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Wolfpack has won four of its past five games after hitting a mid-ACC lull. Now N.C. State gets some time off before a trip to Florida State on Saturday.
“It’s better to have a week off with a win than a loss,” Keatts said.