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N.C. State enters a portion of its men’s basketball schedule that on paper seems like it could be a respite from the grind of the last month. The Wolfpack will have to handle its own attrition if it is to close out the regular season in top form.
Playing just eight players in Saturday’s loss at Duke, Kevin Keatts is not looking to sacrifice anything in terms of playing style. Expect the Pack to continue seeking out the frantic pace that its second-year head coach adores.
“It’s tough but not impossible,” Keats said of his full-court tempo. “That’s the way we play and it’s part of our game plan. That’s what we’ve been doing for many years and we’ve been successful. We don’t have the ability to rest guys so some players who have been playing 25 minutes may have to play 30 minutes and I think they’re okay with that.”
Keatts is confident he will add one player to the fold Wednesday.
Sophomore guard Blake Harris has not played since the Wolfpack’s loss at North Carolina on Feb. 5 but he is due back to return Wednesday against the Eagles. Harris has not played more than 10 minutes in a game since a win over USC Upstate on Dec. 22, 2018.
With or without Harris, the Wolfpack has to control the variables — and that includes fouls that lead to free-throw attempts. N.C. State only made 6-of-11 attempts from the charity stripe in the loss to the Blue Devils while Duke countered with 21-of-28 shooting from the free-throw line in what ultimately was a 16-point win.
“The last couple games we’ve only played eight guys and, with the way we play, that’s been a challenge,” Keatts said. “We think we’ll get Blake Harris back; he dressed against Duke, but he hadn’t practiced but once in the last five days. We’ll have nine guys that we feel comfortable playing. With that said, some of our guys have to do better avoiding foul trouble and we have to pick and choose where we press because we don’t have the depth we had early in the year.”
The Wolfpack never folded at Duke but the Blue Devils managed to keep N.C. State at arm’s length throughout.
“We couldn’t get the stops we needed,” senior guard Torin Dorn Jr. said. “We’d cut it to six, seven or eight and they’d get timely stops. There are some little things we have to clean up moving forward.”
There is not a No. 1 Duke or a No. 8 North Carolina on the remainder of the schedule for the Wolfpack. In fact, of the final five games regular season games only one, a March 2 matchup at No. 16 Florida State, is against a school currently ranked in the Top 25.
Not that the Pack feels threatened by top-tier competition when the time comes to lace them up.
“There are some things we have to clean up but we figured out some guys are gamers in big moments,” Dorn said. “You always learn lessons in losses. Absolutely, we played hard (at Duke) and we can play with anybody in the country.”
MEN’S BASKETBALL: Keatts received a verbal commitment on Monday from Farmville Central 6-foot-3 sophomore Terquavion Smith.
The class of 2021 combo guard averaged 18 points and six assists per game this season in high school. He also plays AAU ball for Team CP3, the travel team organized by former Wake Forest star and current Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: N.C. State raised over $200,000 in its 14th Annual Play-4-Kay Game at Valvano Arena in Reynolds Coliseum on Monday. The Wolfpack, currently ranked ninth in the nation, fell to No. 5 Notre Dame, 95-72, to drop to 22-3 overall and 9-3 in ACC play.
N.C. State returns to action Thursday at home against Wake Forest.
BASEBALL: The Wolfpack swept its opening series at home against Bucknell. N.C. State improved to 4-0 on the campaign with a 5-0 win at Elon on Tuesday, and will return to action Friday for the opener of a three-game set in South Carolina.
On Friday the Pack will battle Kent State in Myrtle Beach. The Saturday and Sunday contests will be down the road in Conway as N.C. State will take on Michigan State and then conclude the set against the host Coastal Carolina at Springs Brooks Stadium.
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.