Here are some quick thoughts and observations from NC State's 79-77 victory over Loyola-Chicago at PNC Arena Saturday.
Dennis Smith Jr.
The freshman was dynamic Saturday. His stat line, especially considering it was only his sixth college game, was epic. Smith scored 30 points on 13-of-22 shooting from the floor, including 17 in the second half, and also finished with seven assists, six rebounds and three steals in 40 minutes of action.
It will be interesting to see how his game changes as players like Maverick Rowan and Omer Yurtseven are added to the fold, along with Ted Kapita potentially gaining more minutes. The good news for the Wolfpack is Smith said his performance Saturday was more a reflection of what the defense gave him and that he is willing to exploit the opposition whatever way it takes to win.
Terry Henderson's First Half
Without Henderson's 16 points in the first half NC State likely would have lost. To be fair, he was one of three players to score in double-figures in the first half but he seemed to keep the Wolfpack afloat as Loyola raced out to a lead. The Ramblers led by as many as 11 points prior to halftime. As the defense cracked down on him in the second half and Smith began to heat up. Henderson stayed within the flow of the game. There was nothing along the lines of forced shots or selfish play.
The way Johnson plays defense is a sight to behold. He is a bundle of energy and creates panic in the backcourt. The freshman has the ability to lead the ACC in steals one day and, having watched the game, it is actually remarkable that he is only credited with three steals. If NC State does go to a 4-guard lineup, Johnson can be a point man that helps create the up tempo offense Mark Gottfried craves with his defensive ability. The Wolfpack can become a team that relies on pressure defense down the road and Johnson could be a reason why.
Remarkably, the 6-1 guard also led NC State with two blocked shots.
It remains to be seen what type of team Loyola will be but the Ramblers were efficient from the floor against NC State, shooting over 50 percent and making 10-of-17 three-pointers. The Wolfpack has clamped down defensively for spells but has yet to put together a close-to-complete performance defensively. That will have to be sorted in December.
The combined total for NC State's frontcourt was six points (all from Abdul-Malik Abu) on 2-of-9 shooting, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 52 minutes. Markell Johnson had two blocks to match the frontcourt.
Abu did score four points late that were critical to the Wolfpack's win but there has to be more from the forwards in the future. NC State will not be able to compete with better teams, even in 4-guard sets, with such a paltry production from its bigs.
+/- is essentially the points scored by a team minus the points allowed by a team while a certain player is on the floor.
Torin Dorn Jr.: +7
Markell Johnson: +5
Darius Hicks: +4
Ted Kapita: +3
Dennis Smith Jr.: +2
BeeJay Anya: -1
Terry Henderson: -1
Abdul-Malik Abu: -9
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Dennis Smith Jr.
Frankly, Smith had to take control in the second half as the Wolfpack was stagnant offensively. He created off the dribble and led the break. The freshman also played his part in what was a good job by NC State in terms of ball movement. The Pack shot over 50 percent in the contest and it is saying something when the leading scorer also easily paces the team in assists.
STAT OF THE GAME
Dennis Smith Jr. accounted for 38 percent of scoring (30-of-79 points), 58.3 percent of assists (7-of-12), 20 percent of rebounds (6-of-30) and 37.5 percent of steals (3-of-8) in NC State's win over Loyola.
"We just decided that enough was enough. We didn't play the way we'd like to in the first half. We had to come out and make plays in the second half." -- Dennis Smith Jr.