N.C. State’s magic touch at PNC Arena finally ran out on Sunday.
The Wolfpack had won all its ACC home games this month, topping Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest before No. 25 Miami shot its way to an 86-81 win over N.C. State.
The Wolfpack received another sterling effort from Omer Yurtseven on the offensive end as the 7-0 sophomore scored 28 points while hitting 12 of 16 shots.
Defensively, though, Yurtseven admitted to some miscues that hurt his team. Plenty of other Wolfpack players should join him as Miami shot a season-best 57.6 percent.
That’s one of three things to takeaway from this loss which leaves N.C. State 13-7 overall and 3-4 in ACC play heading into a two-game road trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and North Carolina on Saturday.
Here are three things to take note of:
Or lack thereof.
Let’s first credit Miami, which logged a season-best 26 assists on the way to scoring 42 points in the paint. That was a point shy of accounting for 50 percent of Miami’s points.
“I wish coaching was that easy,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said, “because on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, my coaches kept emphasizing to our players: we need more assists, we need more assists, this is how you get them. And the players listened and executed. And I thought it was very symbolic that in the first, I don’t know, five or six possessions, we probably had four or five assists. And I think it sent a message that that’s the way we’re going to play today. We scored 86 points and shared the ball very well.”
Ebuka Izundu embodied Miami’s dominance inside. The 6-10 junior center had only attempted six shots or more in three other games this season – none against ACC opponents.
But against N.C. State, he made all seven of his field-goal attempts and all were within two feet of the rim.
“Defensively, on the pick-and-roll, they set a lot of backscreens,” Yurtseven said. “Big men have to stay at the back screen a little while and then get back to (cover) the pick and roll. So that gave the guards some time to pick up their speed. But I would say it’s mostly my and the other big men’s fault that we got beat on the pick and rolls. I’ve just got to get better. That’s all we have to focus on.”
On one hand, it’s hard to blame Abdul-Malik Abu for Miami’s success inside because the 6-8 senior forward was only on the court for 4 minutes and 41 seconds of play.
On the other hand, Miami outscored N.C. State by eight points during that short stint.
N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts started Abu for the fifth consecutive game but for the second time in four days Abu was no factor for the Wolfpack.
“The biggest part of it is foul trouble,” Keatts said. “And honestly he’s having a lot of defensive breakdowns. I’ve prided myself with these guys that, if you are going to play, then you have to do a tremendous job of not having so many breakdowns. To be honest with you that’s one of his biggest issues right now.”
In Thursday night’s 72-63 win over Wake Forest, Abu played 13 minutes, attempted three shots and scored just two points. He had no rebounds but also no fouls in the game.
Against Miami, his line on the stat sheet was full of zeros except for his three fouls.
Unless Abu shows more defensive acumen in practice over the next two days, it’s hard to envision him being in the starting lineup Wednesday night at Pittsburgh.
Good Markell, bad Markell
Back in the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 9, sophomore point guard Markell Johnson established a career high with 14 assists. He’s a big reason why the Wolfpack moved the ball around well enough to shoot 54.4 percent itself and hang with the hot-shooting Hurricanes.
But Johnson also contributed to N.C. State coming up short with his six turnovers.
“Just doing too much a lot of times and miscommunication,” Johnson said of his miscues.
Johnson missed seven games while suspended for violating the school’s student-athlete code of conduct. His infraction was a felony assault charge in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. A prosecutor there dropped the charge on Jan. 11, allowing Johnson to return to school and the team.
He’s played three games since his return, logging 23 assists in those three games. He turned the ball over three times in 23 minutes against Virginia on Jan. 14 but, since that was against the defensively tough Cavaliers, some forgiveness was in order.
Johnson had just one turnover while scoring 13 points with four assists against Wake Forest last Thursday night.
The turnovers he committed against Miami can’t continue.
“One of the things that I’ve been working on with him is, he’s got a bad habit that I’ve got to get him out of,” Keatts said. “He likes to drive and then jump in the air and he gets stuck. A lot of times it works but most of the time it doesn’t. Certainly it didn’t work (Sunday).”
N.C. State’s offense is better with Johnson distributing the ball at point guard. But he also needs to cut down those mistakes if the Wolfpack is to be successful.