N.C. State was missing one player before the game with UNC-Asheville on Tuesday and then another got hurt early in the game.
The shorter bench didn’t affect the Wolfpack’s performance, especially on defense, in a 100-49 win over the Bulldogs.
Sophomore guard Devon Daniels scored 20 points and N.C. State forced 24 turnovers and finished with 13 steals in its third straight lopsided win. The Wolfpack (3-0) has won its first three games by a combined total of 147 points.
“I’m happy where my team is right now,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I think everybody that gets in the game is giving me maximum effort.”
And that’s a good thing with a shorthanded lineup. Freshman forward Ian Steere made his decision to transfer official. Steere, a top-150 recruit from Sanford, missed Saturday’s win over Maryland-Eastern Shore and then met with Keatts on Monday.
“At the end of the day, I think he was just looking for a fresh start,” Keatts said of Steere, who played 5 minutes in the opener.
The loss of junior guard Markell Johnson was unexpected. Johnson, the ACC’s assist leader last season, collided with UNCA (1-1) forward Jeremy Peck at 16:24 in the first half. Peck was setting a screen on Johnson, who wasn’t looking when the two collided.
“I was pretty upset about (Markell) because it was my guy that was screening him,” forward Wyatt Walker said. “I was yelling real loud and I saw it coming. You never want to see that but he’s tough kid and he’ll be back.”
Without Johnson, Braxton Beverly had five assists in 16 minutes, while Blake Harris added eight points and three steals.
Johnson was taken back to the locker room but returned to the bench midway through the second half. Keatts said Johnson did not have a concussion.
“He’ll meet with the doctors (Wednesday) and I’ll know more,” Keatts said of Johnson.
Without Johnson or Steere, Keatts made do with a nine-man rotation. An aggressive on-the-ball defense made a big difference. In Saturday’s win over UMES, the Wolfpack had only four steals. Keatts had his crew crank up the pressure from the jump on UNCA.
N.C State led 29-7 at 5:24 after a steal by Harris and kick ahead to Torin Dorn. The Bulldogs didn’t hit double-figures until the 5-minute mark and trailed 44-22 at the half.
“I thought we played extremely hard,” Keatts said. “Our teams typically play hard but when you look at tonight, I thought our guys got after it.”
There was a challenge by Keatts after the UMES win to create more disruption on the defensive side.
“He told us to focus on (defense) and I think we did a really good job of that,” Daniels said.
Daniels, a transfer from Utah, found his scoring touch after a slow start in the first two games. He had four points in the win over UMES and 10 in the opener over Mount St. Mary’s and was a combined 6 of 19 from the floor. He went 8 of 16 on Tuesday and added nine rebounds and two steals.
“In the first two games, I was thinking too much,” Daniels said. “I was just trying to get comfortable with the team and fit in, instead of focusing on playing hard.”
Keatts noticed the difference in Daniels, who averaged 9.9 points per game as a freshman at Utah but had sit out under NCAA rules last season.
“I thought in the first couple of games, especially last game, he forced a lot of things,” Keatts said. “I thought he relaxed and I thought he was more comfortable.”
Dorn and C.J. Bryce each added 13 points. N.C. State blew the game open with a 6-of-9 start from the 3-point line in the second half.
Even without a full lineup, it was the second time in three games N.C. State had hit triple-digits. It hadn’t done that since the 1994-95 season.
“We’ve got plenty of guys that are eager to play,” Keatts said. “I don’t know where I’ve ever had a team where everybody is almost equal.”