North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. (4) slams in two points during Tuesday's game against Pittsburgh in Raleigh. The Wolfpack plays host to Wake Forest on Saturday.
Ethan Hyman | The News & Observer via AP
By Rob McLamb
Special to the Times
These days in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the games that seem like “gimmes” are, in fact, some of the most difficult.
N.C. State (13-6, 2-4) concludes a three-game homestand Saturday when the Wolfpack welcome Wake Forest (11-7, 2-4) to PNC Arena for a 2 p.m. tip-off.
The Wolfpack ended a three-game losing streak Tuesday with a 79-74 victory over Pittsburgh but the aftermath of Sunday’s 86-76 loss to Georgia Tech at PNC Arena was ugly. Many N.C. State fans began to question openly the direction of the program and head coach Mark Gottfried was visibly upset when discussing the performance of his team at the postgame press conference.
While the Pack are likely feeling better about themselves after rallying for a home win over the Panthers earlier in the week, the sting from a loss to the Yellow Jackets at home Sunday is still felt. N.C. State is also aware that the Demon Deacons, fresh off a home thrashing of Miami, present a whole new set of problems.
During his media availability Thursday, Gottfried had praise for Wake Forest.
“They were impressive,” Gottfried said of the Demon Deacons’ 96-79 win Wednesday. “Miami had a hard time making shots but I think Wake had a lot to do with it too. They defended pretty well. That one gets your attention.”
The three-game skid got the attention of many in and outside the program. The Wolfpack hopes Tuesday’s victory was the start of solid run with a brutal ACC schedule looming.
“We are just more focused on playing hard every possession,” Abdul-Malik Abu said. “Every game is crucial so we have to treat every possession like it is the most important.”
N.C. State has dominated the Demon Deacons in Raleigh of late. The last road win for Wake Forest in Raleigh was in 2005, yet the Deacs have managed to win four straight home games against the Wolfpack as the series has been close since Mark Gottfried arrived in 2011.
The next win for N.C. State will be Gottfried’s 400th career victory as a head coach. With the plight of his current team the priority, he brushes that potential milestone aside.
“That would be nice,” Gottfried said. I’m not so concerned about that right now. I am concerned about our team and playing well. That stuff takes care of itself.”
PERSON IS LATEST COMMIT
Wake Forest Heritage High running back Ricky Person, who is in the class of 2018, is the latest player to give a verbal commitment to N.C. State.
In his junior season this past fall, Person tallied 774 yards rushing on 145 carries. He scored 11 touchdowns for Heritage, which finished the 2016 campaign 11-3 overall.
According to the tailback, when he called N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren to inform him of his decision, his future college coach was thrilled.
“Coach just said to call me, call me,” Person said. “So I gave him a quick call and he was just excited. He said he can’t wait until I come up on Saturday so he can give me a big hug. He was just real happy.”
N.C. State assistant coach Dez Kitchens, who recently accepted an offer to become the head coach at his alma mater Furman before having a change of heart and electing to return to Raleigh, was a big influence on Person’s decision to run with the Pack.
“We have a great relationship,” Person said. “We go way back. His son played baseball and he played one or two games against my brother. We just have that type of connection. There’s never a dull moment between me and Coach Kitchings because it’s always one thing or another — just laughing and going back and forth with each other and having a good time.”
Prior to selecting N.C. State, he also considered Duke and South Carolina. Person has received offers from Louisville, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest among others. The junior is rated the No. 11 athlete in the nation and the No. 1 athlete in North Carolina by Scout.com.
Person also plays defense at Heritage, where he collected 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble.
There is some speculation that his size and N.C. State’s needs may force him to play another position with the Wolfpack. Person just wants to get on the field and is willing to help out wherever he can.
“I can do anything State needs me to do,” Person said. “I can go out and play in the slot if they need me to. I can play out wide if that’s where they need me and I can run the ball.”
He cites his family as the biggest reason for his choice and for the timing of his decision.
“I committed because I have a close relationship with the coaches and State is like home to me and plus I have family at State,” Person said. “I just lost my grandma and we were talking before she passed and I told her I was planning on going to State. So, I just want to keep my promise to her and I just want to make her proud. She was really happy about me going to State.”
Rob McLamb has covered NC State Athletics and recruiting for Pack Pride (Scout.com) since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.