Wolfpack fans have been asking recently why freshman forward Ted Kapita fell out of the rotation.
Kapita hadn't played more than seventeen minutes in a game since Omer Yurtseven's return against Appalachian State on December 15th, and in ACC play he totaled double-digit minutes just once (Miami) and didn't play in the Wolfpack's previous two games.
"Nope," NC State head coach Mark Gottfried replied when asked why Kapita didn't play against Pittsburgh. "The other guys were playing well.
"Obviously, practice is everybody's chance to be evaluated, too, every day in what we do in live drills and how quickly the guys pick things up. Some of it's matchups. Some of it is the guys that are playing, and they're playing well.
"It's always interesting to me that even after we win, the topic becomes the guys that didn't play instead of the guys that did play," he added. "A lot of times the guys that are playing are playing well, and the guys that didn't play sometimes it's not because they did anything bad or they're not playing good, it's that the other guys played real well."
State didn't beat Wake Forest, another game where Kapita didn't play, and that could have been due to matchups as well, given Wake's low post scoring with sophomore center John Collins.
However, things changed for Kapita, and Gottfried, against Duke. Kapita went from not playing to being the Wolfpack's first big off the bench, a move that certainly caught most off-guard given the recent rotation.
"There's an old saying, 'Have a hunch, bet a bunch,'" said Gottfried. "I just had a hunch. He needs to play... I made the decision to bring him off the bench first, really that was some of BeeJay's minutes, and I thought he came in and gave us a great lift. He played really well in just about every phase of the game."
Kapita certainly did. Foul trouble limited him to just 19 minutes, but he finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and a game-high ten rebounds.
"We've been going through a lot," said Kapita after the game. "Losses at home, away... we couldn't win an away game. Coming in here we had the mindset to win and play hard."
He will still need to continue to manage his fouling and maintain his composure. He picked up a bad technical foul in the second half for hanging on the rim... a play that he labeled "playing hard."
"No one can teach me how to play hard," Kapita said. "I was just trying to play hard. It wasn't dirty. It wasn't stupid. I was just trying to play hard, but unfortunately they called a technical foul. I can only control how hard I play."
That was definitely a technical, and it was stupid. Maybe it's those type of mental mistakes, whether in games or in practice, that have limited his production. With that being said, look for Kapita to remain in the rotation given his production. He rebounds at a high rate, can hit shots, is very good at the free throw line, and provides great energy off the bench.
"He's done a good job," added Gottfried. "He missed a lot of games early and he's kind of been behind, but I felt like he deserves a chance. I'm still learning about our team. I wish I had the guy from day one, I don't, but we'll do the best we can. I thought Ted came in and gave us great minutes."
What does Kapita think about the 84-82 win?
"We just came in here and didn't worry about Duke or anyone else," he said. "We were focused on our game and how we can control our intensity. We can't worry about anyone else."