In what was a closer game than expected, NC State men’s basketball pulled out a 74-63 victory over the Elon Phoenix on Saturday, Nov. 19. Elon cut the deficit down with several scoring runs, but NC State responded each time with scoring bursts of its own and defensive stops.
It was a tale of two halves for the Wolfpack (4-0), with defense controlling the game in the first half and offensive efficiency pacing the second. This was enough to earn NC State its fourth victory at the expense of the Phoenix (1-4).
“Be happy, it’s a win,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “There’s no disappointment in that locker room. The other team has got some players, and I thought Elon came in and did a good job of running their offense, taking last-second shots.”
The Pack defense was all over the place in the first half, contesting every shot and picking up full court. This made Elon struggle offensively, shooting a measly 29% from the field and finishing the half with 27 points. Sophomore guard Terquavion Smith harassed the opposing offense to rack up two steals and several deflections, garnering the Pack extra offensive possessions
NC State struggled to score in the first half, shooting only 36% from the field and ending the half with 37 points. Graduate guard Jack Clark, senior guard Casey Morsell and Smith combined for 31 of the 37 first-half points for NC State. Elon’s zone defense was effective in containing the Pack’s offense for the first 20 minutes of play.
Things flipped for the red-and-white in the second half. Offensively, there was more rhythm and pace from Clark and Morsell. Their performance sparked Smith and the rest of the team, who amassed opportunities at the basket and overall better looks than the hit-or-miss 3-point offense from the first half.
Employing smart and experienced players like Smith and Clark helped NC State’s offense find a groove to exploit weak areas in Elon’s zone defense, something that NC State struggled with last season.
“To see that zone was good for us,” Smith said. “We know what we need to work on — when you get into the middle of the zone, it opens up everything else, so getting into the middle is the main goal.”
The adjustment to the zone worked — led by Clark, who finished with 21 points on an efficient 50% from the field, the Pack shot 48% in the second half. Clark also made many clutch shots down the stretch that prevented Elon from completing its comeback.
Graduate forward Dusan Mahorcic was also a force inside, attacking the paint with nine points and 14 rebounds while creating many second-chance opportunities for the offense.
A defensive collapse on the Wolfpack’s end is what made the final minutes of the contest interesting. The interior defense was abysmal, giving up 32 total paint points to the Phoenix. Elon hit five of seven shots from the 9-minute mark until the 5-minute mark of the second half, bringing the game within five points.
“We’ve got to clean up a couple of things,” Keatts said. “Out of all the games, I didn’t think this one [was] as sharp defensively as we’ve been the first three.”
NC State iced the game with a combined 11 points from Mahorcic, Morsell and Clark in the final five minutes.
The Wolfpack will head to the Bahamas for its next three games. Kicking off the series will be a game against the No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 23, a true test to get a sense of how good this team can be.