N.C. State could not have asked for a better game from Dennis Smith Jr. on Monday night at Duke.
He scored, he shared and he rose to the challenge in N.C. State’s 84-82 win over the Blue Devils – its first in Durham since 1995. Smith is friends with Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, who are expected to join Smith in the draft lottery in June, and he seemed to relish the moment and the stage.
It helped Smith that 12 of his 18 attempts were at the basket. If you’ve been following these shot charts along in ACC play, you know the phrase “Good things happen when Dennis Smith takes the ball to the basket” is included in every one.
Smith did that on Monday, and he even made his two step-back shot attempts (both 3-pointers) and was fouled on a third.
For the game, Smith, who scored 32 points, took the ball to the basket 18 times in a halfcourt set. He got a shot off 10 times (he made four), assisted on two baskets (both to forward Abdul-Malik Abu), was fouled three times, twice he kicked out and the shot attempt missed and once he turned the ball over.
It’s easy to say, “Man, when Smith is great, N.C. State wins,” but if you get to the reason why Smith was great – he relentlessly attacked the basket – you get to the heart of how N.C. State can be successful in ACC play.
Smith scored 18 points, nearly on his own, in the first half, to keep State in the game. Then in the second half, Duke wisely paid so much attention to Smith that Abu (19 points) and Maverick Rowan (nine points) had more space to score.
Given senior guard Terry Henderson only scored six points, and forward Omer Yurtseven was a nonfactor, there is room for N.C. State to grow and win without Smith being a super human.
Free throws continue to be Smith’s Kryptonite. He was 6-of-9 from the line in the first 39 minutes of the game and then 2-of-6 in the final 50 seconds.
Smith has to be able to close out teams from the free-throw line, but he’s shooting just 63.9 percent (46 of 72) in ACC play.
He does, as he showed with a last-second steal from Tatum, have the ability to make up for his free-throw inconsistencies with his defense.
Not on the shot chart is Smith’s dunk after the final buzzer. It just might be the most famous basket that didn’t count in N.C. State history.