No. 3 Virginia, No. 23 N.C. State clash in ACC
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There would seem to be a contrast in styles when No. 3 Virginia visits No. 23 North Carolina State in an ACC clash on Tuesday night.
But the defensive-minded Cavaliers have also turned into a strong offensive team.
"In some respects, I think this year's team is better than last year's team and that's no knock to last year's team," N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said of Virginia, which is the reigning ACC champion. "On the offensive end, the ball doesn't stick. They move it around. ... At both ends of the floor, they put so much pressure on you."
N.C. State is feeling good about its offense with point guard Markell Johnson back in the lineup. He missed all three games of a recent road stretch because of a back injury, but he was in action for Saturday's home victory against Clemson.
"I think having Markell back really helps them," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "He's such a key to their team. I think that stabilizes them."
The Wolfpack (16-4, 4-3 ACC) feel much more comfortable with Johnson in the mix. He averages 4.0 assists per game.
"He's probably the best guy on our roster who can create for himself and create for others," Keatts said.
Johnson scored 16 points in 23 minutes against Clemson.
"It was huge for us," said forward Torin Dorn, who leads the team with 14.3 points per game. "We've been missing him since he has been out and it's good to have him back as our point guard, our floor general."
Both teams have done well in responding to bumps in the road.
Since losing to Duke, Virginia (18-1, 6-1) put together two strong performances in toppling Wake Forest and Notre Dame. Bennett said his team has "tightened up" some of the details.
N.C. State lost two of three games, then was in danger of another setback until the riveting rally from six points down in the final 20 seconds to upend Clemson on Braxton Beverly's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
That's the type of spirit that Keatts said he has come to expect from the Wolfpack.
"I never felt like we were out of the game," Keatts said. "We can press and we can make shots."
Now it's a matter of carrying that momentum into the Virginia game.
Virginia has built a reputation for its pack-line defense, but the Cavaliers are no slouches at the offensive end. They have racked up 73.1 points per game in ACC play, putting them in the upper half of the league, despite winning five times by 20 or more points when they might have dialed it back a bit.
N.C. State checks in at 77.9 points per ACC outing, although it has been below that mark in the past four games.
Still, it is the Wolfpack's versatility that creates issues when devising a defensive plan. Six N.C. State players have led the team in scoring this season -- and forward DJ Funderburk, who has scored in double figures in three ACC games, isn't one of those players.
"They can score," Bennett said. "They can all create on their own. They have those kinds of guys who can do that."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 29, 2019