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NC State’s Torin Dorn, Markell Johnson accept Kevin Keatts’ leadership challenge

Kevin Keatts after NC State’s 73-47 win at Boston College on Saturday

NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts talks about the importance of his Wolfpack squad's decisive win over Boston College Saturday, March 9, 2019.
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NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts talks about the importance of his Wolfpack squad's decisive win over Boston College Saturday, March 9, 2019.

When Kevin Keatts questioned N.C. State’s leadership after the Georgia Tech loss, he didn’t call any players out by name.

Both Torin Dorn and Markell Johnson understood who the Wolfpack coach was talking about anyway. They took Keatts’ comments after the 63-61 loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday to heart. They both took it as a challenge and tried to prove they are capable leaders in N.C. State’s 73-47 win at Boston College on Saturday.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Johnson said after the BC win on Saturday. “It was something to motivate me. I know whatever (Keatts) says, he’s not trying to come at me or anything like that, he just wants to motivate me.”

Johnson was active in the road rout of the Eagles with six points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals in 27 minutes. The junior point guard got his teammates involved early and attacked Boston College’s zone and was also smart in when to push the ball in transition.

N.C. State hasn’t been able to run as much in ACC play, especially when teams have decided to clam up in a zone, but Johnson was able to dictate the pace on Saturday.

“I thought Markell did a great job of sharing the basketball and controlling tempo,” Keatts said.

Dorn added 12 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes and made 6 of 10 shots. He said he understood what Keatts was saying after the Georgia Tech loss.

“We all know that we let that game get away and we didn’t play as well as we should have,” Dorn said.

Dorn, a fifth-year senior is not a vocal leader, but he said he tried to pull some of his teammates aside and stress the importance of this final stretch of the season. N.C. State (21-10) is the No. 8 seed in the ACC tournament and will face No. 9 seed Clemson (19-12) on Wednesday in Charlotte.

“Everybody leads in a different way: Some guys are ‘rah, rah’ out-front leaders and other guys lead from behind the scenes,” Dorn said. “Coach and I have talked about that throughout the year. What’s the best way to lead? Sometimes you need the ‘good’ cop and sometimes you need the ‘bad’ cop.”

Keatts didn’t need a “bad” cop, not with N.C. State taking control midway through the first half and putting together one of its best games of the season.

Defensively, N.C. State held Boston College to just 26.7 percent shooting (16 of 60). On the other end, all nine players scored and were involved in the game in a way they hadn’t been since the nonconference portion of the schedule.

“All nine guys were on the same page,” Johnson said. “Moving forward, we need to keep it like that.”

And the best way to do that, coach and players agree, is for Johnson and Dorn to be leaders.

“I’m saying, hey guys, you guys have been here longer than anybody,” Keatts said he told Johnson and Dorn after the Georgia Tech loss. “If anybody is invested in N.C. State, it should be you two. You guys have to be a voice.”

That message was loud and clear, Johnson said.

“It’s up to us to lead these guys in the right direction and the right way,” Johnson said.

Joe Giglio covers N.C. State and has worked at The N&O since 1995. He has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005.

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