Sophomore guard Terquavion Smith looks to pass the ball to a teammate during the game against Campbell on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022 in PNC Arena. Smith led in scoring with 19 points and six assists for the Wolfpack. NC State beat Campbell 73-67.

The NC State men’s basketball team proved it’ll be competitive this year in the ACC, hanging tough with No. 3 Kansas, the defending national champions. However, the Pack couldn’t pull it out late as Kansas hung on for an 80-74 win at the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas.

The Jayhawks (5-0) got 25 points from star freshman Gradey Dick, who garnered more buckets and stops down the stretch than the Wolfpack (4-1).

“It felt like a late January-February ACC matchup,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “Give Kansas credit — I thought they made plays down the stretch when they had to have it. … Proud of our guys, how hard they played.”

NC State competed from the beginning, keeping the game close in the first half and even taking the lead at several points. Dick was on fire, scoring 18 points on six 3-pointers to give Kansas a 39-31 lead at halftime.

But NC State didn’t let the Jayhawks pull away in the second half, opening on an 8-0 run to tie it up at 39. All eight of those points came from senior guard Casey Morsell, who finished with a team-high 21 points and five 3s.

“A lot of shots were open due to guys getting paint touches,” Morsell said. “When guys get paint touches, a lot of stuff clears up for me on the offensive end. Also we were running; we had a lot of transition opportunities, and I was just converting and making shots.”

The game remained tightly contested throughout the second half. Every time it looked like Kansas might pull away, the Pack had an answer. With less than five minutes to go, a jumper by graduate guard Jarkel Joiner made it a two-point game, 69-67.

However, the Wolfpack simply couldn't make the shots or get the stops it needed in crunch time. After Joiner’s jumper, NC State missed five straight shots and four total free throws as Kansas went on a 9-0 run to go up 77-68. With 1:33 left, that lead was simply too much to overcome as the Jayhawks won it 80-74.

“When you’re in that one or two-possession game, everything is important down the stretch,” Keatts said. “Certainly I thought [Kansas] made a few more plays than we did down the stretch.”

Other than Morsell, the Pack had double-figure scoring performances from its backcourt tandem of Joiner and sophomore guard Terquavion Smith, who totaled 17 and 19, respectively. However, the two combined to shoot just 11-30 from the field. NC State will need more efficient production from them to be able to compete on a nightly basis in the ACC this year.

Smith and Joiner’s less-than-stellar shooting performance was a microcosm for the Pack as it only shot 39%. Some of the issues from last year’s team cropped up again down the stretch, such as reverting to isolation ball, making the team easy to guard and difficult to score points.

Nonetheless, it was an encouraging performance for a team that is desperately looking for a better season than a year ago. If this game was any indication, the Pack is going to be better this season. The performance even drew the praise of Kansas head coach Bill Self, who was in his first game back since the national championship against North Carolina following a suspension.

“[Keatts] has got a good team,” Self said. “Joiner is good; he’s a legitimate, elite guard anywhere in the country, Smith is obviously a legitimate scoring guard anywhere in the country, and Morsell — he’s good. … That’s the quickest team we’ll play all year long on the perimeter.”

Next up, the Pack stays in the Bahamas for a game on Thanksgiving Day against the loser of Dayton vs. Wisconsin. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.

Assistant Sports Editor

I'm Ben Ellis. I am in the NC State Class of 2023 majoring in history. I've been writing for Technician since November of 2019.