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Early tough ACC stretch done, NC State must snare available wins

NC State's Batts makes a fantastic steal and scores

Watch a time lapse of NC State's Lavar Batts Jr. stealing the ball from Virginia's Ty Jerome and scoring during the Wolfpack's game against the Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.
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Watch a time lapse of NC State's Lavar Batts Jr. stealing the ball from Virginia's Ty Jerome and scoring during the Wolfpack's game against the Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.

While disappointing to N.C. State, Sunday night’s 17-point road loss at No. 3 Virginia wasn’t a shock or surprise.

The Cavaliers shut down the Wolfpack early and never trailed in their 68-51 win at John Paul Jones Arena.

Virginia’s defensive efficiency of .857 points allowed per possession leads the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics. The Wolfpack’s offensive efficiency in the game was .864.

Right on the money. Right as projected.

“I said for us to have a chance to win the game, especially here at UVa, we had to do a good job of sharing the basketball,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “Obviously, when you look at it, seven assists were not good enough for us.”

N.C. State’s offensive efficiency had been on a roll, leading to wins over ranked opponents No 2. Duke and No. 19 Clemson over the previous eight days. The Wolfpack averaged 87 points per game in those two wins.

NC State coach Kevin Keatts talks about the Wolfpack's loss to the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.

Virginia, with its ability to stay in front of offensive players and cut down passing lanes, wasn’t going to allow that kind of scoring.

So the Wolfpack’s streak of beating ranked teams in consecutive games is over. So, too, is N.C. State’s brutal opening five-game stretch of ACC play.

The Wolfpack played three of its first five ACC games on the road. All five games were against teams that are either currently ranked or have been ranked this season.

At 12-6 overall and 2-3 in ACC play, N.C. State survived without its season falling apart.

The job now is to take what was learned in these games and play with the same intensity over the next three games.

N.C. State has two games at home this week: Wake Forest (8-9, 1-4) on Thursday night and No. 18 Miami (13-3, 2-2) on Sunday.

Its next game is on the road at Pittsburgh (8-10, 0-5), ranked last in the ACC, on Jan. 23.

No stretch of ACC games is easy, but this three-game stretch is as close as its gets for N.C. State.

“We know that every game is a battle,” N.C. State junior forward Torin Dorn said. “If we can clean up some of the things we messed up on today and keep on moving the ball and keep on playing with intensity, we’ll be fine.”

NC State's Torin Dorn talks about the Wolfpack's loss to the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.

Markell Johnson’s return on Sunday gives the Wolfpack a much-needed boost to its backcourt. After missing seven games while suspended due to a felony assault charge in Cleveland, Ohio, Johnson played 23 minutes off the bench against Virginia.

At times in Sunday’s game, Keatts used a lineup that featured Johnson and freshmen guards Braxton Beverly and Lavar Batts on the floor together. The idea is for the Wolfpack to pressure teams into speeding up their offense while the Pack moves the ball better on its offensive end.

That group should be able to achieve that on most nights.

“I feel like with us three being on the court together, there is going to be a lot of chaos on the ball,” Batts said. “A lot of deflections. With us three on the court, we are going to speed the game up.”

N.C. State made just 2 of 16 3-pointers against Virginia and had 15 turnovers and seven assists.

That kind of output won’t lead to wins in ACC play.

NC State Lavar Batts, Jr. talks about the Wolfpack's loss to the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.

Miami is No. 7 in the country in defensive efficiency, so the Wolfpack won’t be facing a defense like best-in-the-nation Virginia’s again.

Wins are out there to be had over the next 10 days or so. The Wolfpack has to shake off this lopsided loss and focus on getting them.

“As long as we lock in and stay together, we can beat anybody,” Batts said. “It shows. We just have to keep working. That’s all we have to do. We have to keep listening to our coaches and keep doing what we’ve got to do.”

Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett was in the middle of his press conference after the Cavaliers defeated the NC State Wolfpack when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints on the last play of the game. Bennett, who was a huge Fr

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

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