This is supposed to be the season N.C. State plays defense.
No, for real this time, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried insists after years of making the same promise.
Maybe N.C. State won’t play “lock ’em down, throw away the key” Virginia-style defense but it’s going to try to generate some easy points in transition.
That’s exactly what N.C. State did on Monday night in a 112-60 win over Barton College in its final warmup of the preseason.
“That’s one of the strengths of this team,” sophomore guard Torin Dorn said. “We have guards that are fast and we are deeper, so we can press up a little bit more.”
N.C. State opens the regular season on Friday against Georgia Southern and it hopes it can duplicate the defensive effort from Monday’s blowout.
Freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. had six steals, and 24 points, to lead the Wolfpack’s defensive charge. The team finished with 14 steals, eight blocks and 52 fastbreak points.
“Hopefully, our team can become really good defensively,” Gottfried said.
N.C. State was up against a formidable Division II foe on Monday night. The Bulldogs didn’t quite know how to handle Smith, who showed off his 40-inch vertical leap on multiple steals.
Smith had a sequence early in the second half — with N.C. State already up by 41 points — where he turned two steals in the backcourt into two dunks. He sandwiched a 3-pointer in between those defensive gems just to show the versatility to his game.
“He’s good at baiting you into throwing a pass, like a (cornerback), and then breaking on it and turning it into points on the other end,” Dorn said of Smith’s defensive strength.
Dorn got in on the act, too, with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. The combination of the athletic Smith and Dorn in the backcourt is why Gottfried is bullish on his team’s defensive prospects.
“We’re getting a lot of deflections, a lot of steals,” Gottfried said. “I think one thing about this team is I think we can turn a lot of those steals and long rebounds into some fastbreak opportunities.”
Offensive efficiency has been Gottfried’s calling card in his five seasons. Save for stretches at the end of the 2011-12 and 2014-15 seasons, the team’s defense has always lagged behind.
He took umbrage with that generalization on Monday after the game.
“We really never have here in five years at all, just a couple of Sweet 16s, but we didn’t play any ‘D’ the whole time,” Gottfried joked.
N.C. State has allowed more than 100 points per 100 possessions twice in Gottfried’s tenure, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency statistics, and ranked in the 100s nationally in defensive efficiency three times, including No. 150 last season.
A healthy, deeper and more athletic lineup should help pressure the perimeter more. The Wolfpack got after Barton early on Monday night, avoiding a repeat of the slow start from last Thursday’s lopsided win over Lynn University.
The Wolfpack had eight steals and 27 fast-break points while building a 59-23 halftime lead over the Bulldogs. A steal by Smith, at 3:55 in the first, led to the highlight of the game — in a game filled with highlights for the home team.
After Smith stole a pass at the top of the key, he kicked it ahead to Terry Henderson, who passed it to Maverick Rowan on the right wing.
Rowan jumped and looked like he was going to go in for a layup but he quickly took Henderson’s pass and redirected it to Shaun Kirk for a dunk.
Kirk got another dunk at the 2:18 mark off of a steal from Dorn. All five field goals from the springy sophomore forward were dunks.
Rowan added 17 points and Henderson finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Henderson said there is one way to make sure the this year’s team shows significant defensive improvement.
“If everybody takes pride on defense, that will make everybody better,” Henderson said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio