There’s no sense arguing about which team has the best backcourt in the ACC.
When Duke and N.C. State meet on Thursday in Greensboro, the point will probably be settled.
N.C. State guards Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey made their case on Wednesday in an 81-70 win over Pittsburgh in the second round of the ACC tournament.6
Barber had a career-high 34 points, and Lacey added 21. Each finished with five assists.
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Pitt coach Jamie Dixon called them “terrific.” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said they were “phenomenal.”
Even with an off night from senior guard Ralston Turner (four points), who missed his five 3-point attempts, it’s clear N.C. State has the type of guards to be dangerous in both the ACC and NCAA tournament.
But the best in the ACC? Better than Duke’s duo of Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, who led the Blue Devils to a 28-3 record?
“Everybody wants to claim the best backcourt,” Barber said. “I’m not into all that talking. They great, we great, so we’re just going to go out and play.”
In the first meeting between N.C. State and Duke, an 87-75 Wolfpack win in Raleigh on Jan. 11, Lacey had 21 points and Cook had 18. But neither Barber nor Jones had a particularly good game.
Barber had as many points as turnovers (four) and made just one field goal. Jones, who has been at his best when Duke has needed him most, finished with four points and made just 1 of 6 field goals and went 0 of 3 from 3-point range.
For the season, Cook (16.0 points per game, 81 3-pointers) and Lacey (16.2 ppg, 72 3s) have similar numbers. Both were second-team All-ACC selections by the media.
Jones (11.4 ppg, 5.7 assist per game) and Barber (12.5 ppg, 3.8 apg) also have similar numbers, although slightly different roles. Jones has been a facilitator and has a great rapport with ACC player of the year Jahlil Okafor. Barber has been more of a scorer.
Lately, Barber has been on another level. In the first 21 games, Barber averaged 10.0 points. Since a trip to Georgia Tech on Jan. 31 he has averaged 17.6 in the past 10 games. His 34 points on Wednesday were the most by an N.C. State player in the ACC tournament since David Thompson in 1975.
In the past 10 games, Barber also has 44 assists and 22 turnovers.
“Down the stretch he just keeps getting better and better,” Turner said. “It’s not that he wasn’t capable before, it’s now he starting to believe in himself more.”
Lacey has been more consistent for N.C. State. He makes so many tough, contested shots that he makes them look routine. He also averages 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
Turner said he’s used to seeing Lacey and Barber make all kinds of difficult shots in practice, but he said there was something special about Wednesday’s effort.
Barber had 21 points in the first half on a variety of aggressive drives to the basket and a 4-of-4 performance from the 3-point line.
Lacey took over in the second half. He was 5 of 7 from the floor for 14 of his total points.
“I was kind of watching him and Cat work,” Turner said. “Sometimes when you see it so much you lose appreciation but those dudes are good. They are real good.”
Whether they’re the best is a question to be answered on Thursday.
“We’re looking forward to playing against them and I know they’re looking forward to playing against us,” Barber said. “So it’s going to be fun.”