State Now

NC State has lost two straight. What does that say about the Wolfpack’s defense?

North Carolina’s Theo Pinson, left, breaks to the basket past N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu, middle, in UNC’s 96-89 win over the Wolfpack on Feb. 10.
North Carolina’s Theo Pinson, left, breaks to the basket past N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu, middle, in UNC’s 96-89 win over the Wolfpack on Feb. 10. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson and UNC’s Luke Maye scored 65 points between them against N.C. State last week.

First, junior guard Robinson dribble-drove his way through the lane time after time to score 32 points in the Hokies’ 85-75 win over the Wolfpack on Feb. 7.

Three days later, on Feb. 10, Maye tallied 33 points as the Tar Heels shot 78.1 percent in the second half in their 96-89 win at N.C. State.

Those two losses not only slowed N.C. State’s roll toward a possible NCAA tournament berth, they also raised questions about the Wolfpack’s defense.

Kevin Keatts, N.C. State’s first-year head coach, admitted his team played poor defense at Virginia Tech, which shot 63.5 percent and scored 56 points in the paint.

Even though UNC tallied 60 points in the paint while shooting 56.3 percent in its win, Keatts said the Wolfpack’s defense was better against the Tar Heels.

“I thought our guys, our guards, did a tremendous job,” Keatts said. “I’ll go back and tell you that Luke Maye had a great day. We switched guys on him. He made shots inside and out. I was happy with our guard play. Our guards did a good job of keeping guys in front (of them).”

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N.C. Stateís Allerik Freeman (12) gets a hand in the face of North Carolinaís Luke Maye (32) during the second half of the Wolfpack’s loss to the Tar Heels. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Keatts said stats show his team is doing well beyond field goal percentages.

“If you look at the stats, we’ve done a great job of running guys off the 3-point line,” Keatts said. “Most of the baskets that people score against us are two-pointers and last I checked, three counts more than two. I’m happy with that part of it.”

According to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced stats at kenpom.com, N.C. State’s ACC opponents have made 57.4 percent of its 2-point shots. That’s the worst 2-point defense in the ACC.

But the Wolfpack’s conference opponents have made only 34.8 percent of its 3-pointers. That’s No. 6 in the 15-team ACC.

Overall, N.C. State is 12th in the ACC in defensive efficiency. ACC teams score 109.5 points per 100 possessions against the Wolfpack. By comparison, Virginia leads the ACC at 88.3 points per 100 possessions. Duke is No. 6 at 103.1 while UNC is No. 9 at 107.3.

“I’m very excited about our defense,” Keatts said. “My style, I think people make a lot of mistakes when you look at percentages. If you go back and look at our games we typically get 10 more shots per game because we turn teams over. So the percentages are a little deceiving. I look more at how many deflections, steals and forced turnovers that we have.”

N.C. State is third in the ACC in turnover percentage on defense. The Wolfpack’s opponents in ACC play have turned the ball over on 19.2 percent of their possessions. Only Virginia (23.0) and Louisville (19.9) are better.

N.C. State has recorded steals on 9.9 percent of its defensive possessions. That’s No. 6 in the ACC.

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North Carolina's Cameron Johnson (13) drives around N.C. State's Markell Johnson (11) during the first half of N.C. State's loss to UNC. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

In the loss at Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack did attempt 10 more shots than the Hokies (62-52). UNC, though, shot the ball 71 times last Saturday to N.C. State’s 64.

But in the Wolfpack’s 95-91 overtime win at UNC on Jan. 27, N.C. State shot 76 times to the Tar Heels’ 72.

When N.C. State beat Duke 96-85 on Jan. 6, the Blue Devils shot 51.7 percent and N.C. State shot 50.7 percent. But the Wolfpack had 67 shot attempts to Duke’s 60.

So there’s some validity to what Keatts is saying about his team’s defense.

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

NC State at Syracuse

When: 9 p.m., Wednesday

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY

TV: ACC Network Extra

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