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Redshirt junior DJ Funderburk goes up for an uncontested shot during the game versus the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 in PNC Arena. Funderburk scored 14 points and had 7 rebounds against the Panthers. NC State beat Pittsburgh 77-73.

NC State will play its first game of the NIT against Davidson on Thursday, March 18 in Denton, Texas at the UNT Coliseum. The Wolfpack (13-10, 9-8 ACC) is coming off of a disappointing first-round ACC tournament exit due to the Syracuse Orange. Now, the team is set to face the Davidson Wildcats (13-8,7-4 A10), who will be hoping to bounce back after they were unable to qualify for the NCAA Tournament after losing in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

The Wolfpack received a No. 3 seed in the tournament, while Davidson secured a No. 2 seed. The winner of this matchup will go on to play either Colorado State or Buffalo in the quarterfinals. 

NC State accepted a bid to the trimmed tournament, which now features only 16 teams, down from the normal 32 after being bumped from NCAA tournament contention. The Wolfpack had won five in a row going into the ACC Tournament, so it will be looking to pick up where they left off. 

Luckily for the team, it will have another chance to earn silverware in this competition, but the road ahead will not be an easy one. Davidson finished third in a hotly contested A10 conference, just behind VCU and St. Bonaventure, who both received a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so the Wildcats will also be looking to go far on the national stage. 

Davidson is a force to be reckoned with from beyond the arc and tends to heavily rely on its 3-point shooting to take itself to the next level and torment its opponents. Overall, Davidson leads the Atlantic 10 Conference in 3-point field goals made, and it has attempted the third-most 3s in the conference this season. 

In the Wildcats’ win over George Mason in the A10 tournament quarterfinals, the team attempted 31 3-pointers, hitting 17 of them. If the Wolfpack has any desire to shut down this free-firing Wildcat offense, it will need to make perimeter defense a priority, something it has struggled with in the past. In its last contest, out of 29 attempts, the Pack allowed Syracuse to hit 14 3s and was never able to recover. 

The Wildcats are led by guard Kellan Grady, who averages a squad-high 17.3 points this season, along with a solid 4.2 rebounds per game. Grady has shot 40% from downtown and has hit a team-high 58 3s. 

Stopping Grady will be a difficult challenge for the Wolfpack freshmen guards, who may have the skill but lack the experience that Grady possesses. In Davidson’s Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinal, Grady scored 32 points to help his team advance to the next round. Grady will be looking to do the same in this tournament as one last senior walk-off. 

Accompanying Grady on the Davidson squad are forward Hyunjung Lee and guard Carter Collins, both of whom are averaging double digits and have started each of the 21 games Davidson has played this season. 

Another face to remember is forward Luka Brajokovic, who stands at a towering 6-foot-10. Brajokovic leads all Davidson players in rebounding and has been an integral piece of the Wildcat’s defense, averaging a block a game. This Davidson side has size and depth, and if NC State can match its energy, it will make for quite the contest.   

Though Davidson has been quite productive on the offensive side of the ball, it has been lackluster on the defensive end. The Wildcats have averaged only 5.1 steals per game, second to last in the conference, while the Pack has been able to produce more than eight steals a game on average. The Wolfpack may be able to take advantage of the loose defense and catch the Wildcats out on the break. Doing that while applying their own defensive pressure should be a recipe for success. 

This NIT bid seems like a fresh start for both teams, who are both looking to prove that they belong on the big stage. Although the NIT is not the NCAA Tournament, it is a national stage nonetheless, and a deep run in this small-sized tournament would be a boost that each program needs.