NC State-North Carolina basketball take stage in ACC game

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (5) steals the ball from N.C. State’s D.J. Burns Jr. (30) during the first half of N.C. State’s game against UNC at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (5) steals the ball from N.C. State’s D.J. Burns Jr. (30) during the first half of N.C. State’s game against UNC at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts is not one to pay attention to NET rankings or the latest KenPom ratings or someone’s guesstimate about where the Wolfpack could be seeded in the NCAA tournament.

Nor, Keatts said Friday, is he one to look ahead at the schedule, only at the game directly in front of the Pack.

For N.C. State, that’s North Carolina on Sunday at PNC Arena. Ahead for the No. 23 Pack are home games against Wake Forest and Clemson, then a road game at Duke to close out the regular season.

Any way you look at it, it’s crunch time in the ACC, when some teams continue to stamp themselves as NCAA worthy and others start to fade or fall by the wayside.

The State-Carolina game at PNC Arena was squeezed into what became a momentous few days in Raleigh surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stadium Series outdoor game. There was the FanFest in downtown Raleigh on Friday, a Hootie and the Blowfish concert at the arena, the game between the Hurricanes and Washington Capitals and then Sunday’s ACC game.

NC. State already has one win over UNC this week — the Wolfpack women rallying from 10 points behind in the fourth quarter Thursday to take a 77-66 overtime victory at Reynolds Coliseum.

Keatts was at that game, impressed by the Pack’s resiliency and smiling Friday in noting Wolfpack women’s coach Wes Moore is using a press — a Keatts staple — and it was effective against the Tar Heels.

“He’s changing his ways,” Keatts kidded. “He’s pressing a little bit more, and he’s starting to like it.”

The Pack’s biggest concern Sunday, again, is deciding how to best take on Armando Bacot, who had 23 points and 18 rebounds in UNC’s 80-69 win in the first game this season, Jan. 21 in Chapel Hill.

“His numbers were like playing a video game, he was so good,” Keatts said.

The game could evolve into an old-school, one-on-one battle inside between Bacot and the Pack’s D.J. Burns. Bacot got the better of it in Chapel Hill, but Burns has played well at home, urged on by Wolfpack fans who have enjoyed watching the big man work.

“D.J. is one of the most gifted bigs in terms of his touch, being able to score with contact, his passing ability,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said Friday. “He just puts you in a pinch, because it’s very difficult to guard him one on one. He does a good job of drawing fouls, he can get his position and hold it.

“It’s fun to watch those two compete. It was fun to watch them compete in the first game.”

Keatts said the Pack (20-7, 10-6 ACC) will be prepared to throw some defensive double teams at Bacot but added, “Because he’s been doubled so much this year he’s become a better passer out of that.”

The memories of the first game against the Tar Heels (16-10, 8-7) still remain fresh for the Pack:

Terquavion Smith crashing to the floor in the second half after a hard foul by UNC’s Leaky Black, then being stretchered off the court. R.J. Davis scoring 26 points, going 14-for-14 at the foul line. The Tar Heels going 36-of-39 from the line and the Pack 12-for-12.

Finally, a video emerged after the game of Bacot sporting sunglasses, trolling Smith and Burns.

Burns and Jarkel Joiner each had 18 points in the game in Chapel Hill although Joiner was 0-for-6 on his 3-pointers and the Pack 5-for-17 from 3. Smith had 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting before taken to the hospital.

North Carolina’s Jarkel Joiner (1) and Boston College’s Mason Madsen (45) chase a loose ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mark Stockwell) Mark Stockwell AP

The Wolfpack did not have forward Jack Clark available in the first game after Clark’s groin injury Dec. 30 at Clemson. After missing 10 games, Clark got in a cameo appearance against Boston College last weekend, but played 31 minutes Tuesday in the Pack’s 75-72 loss at Syracuse, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds.

“Adding Jack to your lineup, when you put him in the game you have to guard him because of his ability to stretch the defense out,” Keatts said.

The Wolfpack closed out its run of three consecutive road games by sandwiching losses at Virginia and Syracuse around a 30-point win at BC. Now, it’s three straight at home.

And, for the record, the Pack was No. 38 this week in the NET rankings used by the NCAA basketball selection committee.

To which Keatts replied Friday, “The only thing we’re worried about is what practice looks like today. With this group, we go day by day. We don’t look ahead.”

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.

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