NC State handles business in their season opener against The Citadel 72-59 after a strong team effort. A 22-point performance off the bench helped lift the Pack to their first win of the season.
Beast Boy Burns
Grad center DJ Burns hit the Pack's first points of the season as he went on a 6-2 run all by himself. State would go on to never give up the lead. Burns started hot and stayed hot for the entire matchup after scoring a game-high 16 points on 8-11 shooting.
Burns picked up where he left off last season by imposing his will down low and even knocked down a few jumpers along the way. Head coach Kevin Keatts shared his thoughts after the game stating, "DJ Burns was DJ Burns...very efficient." Keatts and company will continue to feed the big man down low as long as he can stay on the floor. Although he wasn't needed as much in this contest, Burns did play 27 minutes as the offense flowed through him.
NC State fans weren't sure what they had in Stanford transfer Michael O'Connell and Missouri transfer Mohamed Diarra, but wow did they impress. Both had impressive moments throughout the game that soared NC State into the win column. O'Connell was a tale of two halves. He found his shot in the first half and found his teammates in the second half. Scoring 11 first-half points, O'Connell was flawless at finding his shot and not forcing looks to the basket. After connecting on his fourth three-pointer at the 12:44 mark in the second half, O'Connell did not score another point the entire night. Instead, he managed to find his teammates delivering perfect passes all game long.
It's impressive to know that State has this in its arsenal off the bench. O'Connell finished second on the team with 14 points on 5-6 shooting (4-5 from 3PT) and had a game-high seven dimes without committing a single turnover.
Junior forward Mohamed Diarra was arguably the biggest question mark on the roster heading into this season. With not much playing time under his belt, it was hard to get a grasp on just what Diarra could bring to the table for the Pack. How about starting your NC State debut off with your first-ever double-double?
This performance was well in the cards for the Missouri transfer as he already grabbed six of his game-high 14 rebounds before the under-eight media timeout in the first half. Diarra's 14 boards set a new career-high for the promising-looking big man. Diarra also showcased his ability to spread the floor by connecting on two threes in last night's game. With Diarra controlling the boards and Burns being a force inside, NC State could see this duo working nicely side-by-side.
It seems nearly impossible to replace what Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith gave you a season ago. Combining for 34.9 points per game, the duo was unstoppable at times and was deemed the best backcourt in the ACC. With transfers funneling in and competition rising, that title may go to someone else in the conference. Senior guard DJ Horne and junior guard Jayden Taylor struggled offensively in their Wolfpack debut.
The duo combined for just 15 points on 5-21 shooting while only hitting 3-10 from deep. Taylor had a nice outing from deep after hitting two of his three attempts. Something that Taylor was meant to do when Keatts acquired him in the offseason was to hit the long ball. Although you'd like to see him play better, Taylor managed to showcase this ability. First-game jitters seemed apparent early on for both players and should not cause Wolfpack fans to panic.
It's just the first game of the season and the two will surely have better days ahead. What should be alarming is the poor performance as a team when shooting it deep.
For a team that loves to shoot the three-ball, NC State has not looked good doing it so far. Outside of O'Connell, Taylor, and Diarra, the Pack shot just a mere 2-14 from three-point range. The free-throw differential is another glaring eye-sore from this outing. NC State has got to either get to the line more often or stop their opponent from doing so. The Bulldogs went to the line 24 times compared to NC State's seven. And although the Wolfpack managed to dominate,
The Citadel only hit 13 of their 24 attempts. A putrid 54 percent from one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the nation a season ago. It was NC State's game the whole way through, but could've been a little close for comfort if the Bulldogs were connecting. The free-throw discrepancy seems like it is going to have some hangover from last season with no signs of going away.
NC State is now 1-0 on the season and will look to add another one to their win column when they take on Abilene Christian on Friday at 7:00 p.m. in Raleigh.