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The holiday season is a time to be thankful. While Kevin Keatts does not intend to send any subtle messages, he does want that to get that point across.
In its return to the court Saturday after knocking off seventh-ranked Auburn earlier in the week, N.C. State’s bench provided the head coach something to be grateful for. He rewarded them with more playing time.
The Wolfpack defeated USC Upstate, 98-71, at PNC Arena on Saturday to improve to 11-1 on the season. N.C. State started slowly but once Keatts turned to his reserves order was restored.
Only one N.C. State starter scored in double figures. Four of the five Wolfpack bench players finished in double figures, however, led by Eric Lockett with 15 points.
Lockett, who also had eight rebounds in the win, was the only N.C. State player not to appear in Wednesday’s win over Auburn.
“I’m trying to do whatever I can do to get the win for the team,” Lockett said. “I just have to stay ready for when my name is called and do what I can do when I get on the court.”
Keatts was thrilled with Lockett’s professionalism after the DNP-CD on Wednesday.
“Well he made me look like a bad coach because I didn’t play him,” Keatts quipped afterward. “He’s a veteran guy. He’s played a lot of games. He’s a graduate and is working on his master’s right now. He understands.
“I’m trying to create a culture where it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. We all get the credit. Tonight, he was one of the guys responsible for our win.”
DEEP BENCH LEADS TO FRANTIC PACE
N.C. State plays at a frantic pace and Keatts can often be heard screaming at his players to go downcourt when the Wolfpack pulls down a defensive rebound.
The system Keatts craves relies not just on stamina but also the interchangeability of players. Akin to the pistons in a car engine, when one player or even an entire unit needs to be replaced, the Wolfpack turn to the next man up.
D.J. Funderburk added 13 points and four rebounds in only 19 minutes of action off of the bench. The plus/minus statistic, which determines how many more or fewer points a team scores than its opponent when a player is on the court, looked good for N.C. State’s bench.
Each reserve for the Wolfpack finished with at least a plus-26 points Saturday.
“We have 10 eligible guys to play,” Funderburk said. “(Keatts) can play any of those 10 guys and anyone can have double-digits. That’s definitely something to look forward to. We try to make the best of our opportunity when we get in there.”
The Wolfpack will have one more nonconference game before ACC play starts on Thursday, Jan. 3 in Coral Gables, Florida, against Miami.
COUNTING THEIR BLESSINGS
Prior to N.C. State’s home game against Loyola-Maryland on Friday there is the matter of relaxing for the holidays. Keatts is going to use the break to be thankful to who got him where he is now, both on and off the court.
“I want to wish each of you a Merry Christmas,” Keatts said after the win over USC Upstate. “Don’t take Christmas for granted. I’m the worst at it, but (Sunday or Monday), I’m going to get in the car, drive to Virginia, and spend time with my parents and some family members. At the end of the day, this is a loving holiday. Don’t forget that part of it.
“If you told me we’d be 11-1 going into Christmas break I’d take it 10 out of 10 (times). I’m happy. I’m going to enjoy the break and enjoy my family.”
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.