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Last week brought different fortunes for the N.C. State men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The women’s basketball team, now ranked No. 9 by The Associated Press, remained unbeaten with home wins over Virginia Tech and Virginia, while the men limped to a lackluster road loss at Clemson on Saturday in their lone contest of the week.
The results were directly antithetical, but the message afterward from the head coaches of each squad were eerily similar. Neither coach is letting one game nor an individual performance go to his head. The theme at N.C. State is the conference season is a journey and the temperament is staying even keeled.
Despite being undefeated, according to their coaches, there must also be improvements going forward if the Wolfpack is to reach its potential.
“I am proud of them being able to stay focused” N.C. State women’s head coach Wes Moore said. “We try, in film, to show them that we still have a lot of areas where we are not perfect. Maybe we haven’t lost a game, but we still have a lot of areas that we need to clean up and get better.
The Wolfpack (14-0, 3-0 ACC) has a bona fide superstar in 6-foot-5 sophomore Elissa Cunane. The native of Summerfield earned both ACC and Citizen Naismith Trophy Women’s Player of the Week honors after combining for 54 points on 17-of-26 (65.4%) shooting from the field and 19-of-21 (90.5%) from the free-throw line in N.C. State’s two wins last week.
“We want to play inside-out and we want to get her touches,” Moore said. “We have four people around her that are really good 3-point shooters, so if you decide to double or help we have got people who can make you pay for doing that.”
Moore, who is a coach that is notoriously hard to please, also is not interested in adding any value to the Wolfpack’s next outing, a road trip Thursday to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina (11-3, 2-1 ACC).
“It’s the next game,” Moore said. “So now we will focus on Carolina.”
Last season N.C. State jumped out to a 21-0 start before the Tar Heels ended the Wolfpack’s unbeaten run. The team will look to avoid a similar fate in 2020.
“It comes down to learning that we are not always going to have a perfect game or we are not always going to hit shots or it’s not going to go the way we want and finding a way to win through our grit and by following the game plan,” N.C. State senior guard Aislinn Konig said.
Meanwhile, the men’s team returns to action Wednesday evening at home against Notre Dame (10-4, 1-2 ACC) looking to find its way after trailing for practically the entire game against a Clemson squad that entered the contest 6-7 overall and winless in three attempts during league play.
N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts wants better communication and decision-making from his primary guards.
Markell Johnson (11 points on 5-of-15 shooting, seven assists, and six turnovers) and Braxton Beverly (nine points on 2-of-7 field-goal attempts) both struggled at Clemson. The duo could not consistently make shots and, in the case of Johnson, often took rushed attempts at the basket when the Wolfpack was able to trim the deficit to within one basket.
“I told them we have to be better,” Keatts said. “I asked for better leadership from guys like Markell and Braxton Beverly. I asked those two guys to be leaders on the court. When we’re down, I want them to be leaders. When we cut the lead, I want them to be leaders.”
The Wolfpack was a minus-13 points in plus/minus scoring when Johnson was on the court Saturday. N.C. State, 10-4 overall, is 1-2 in the ACC, with the other loss coming in the season opener against Georgia Tech when the senior point guard was out due to injury.
The way things are shaping up, it appears that Johnson is the X-factor for the Wolfpack.
“I just think I’ve got to continue to watch film with him,” Keatts said. “I have to have him to be a quarterback on the floor when things are not going well or, when things are going well, we need a basket. The basket may not have to come from him.
“I think, at times, Markell thinks that we have to have him to make the basket. I just need him to play like a senior and run the show. That being said, it’s a lot of pressure on him right now. He’s our only pure point guard on the roster. He’s playing a lot of minutes. He will be fine, but we’ve got to get him better. I’m more concerned about his free-throw shooting than anything.”
Like his basketball compatriot Moore, the third-year head coach is keeping the road loss in perspective and is moving on with the campaign.
“It’s one game,” Keatts said of the loss. “This is a marathon. We know that we’ve got 17 more of these, and that’s what I talked about. I don’t react to anything. Anybody in this league can beat you at any point, especially at home. We ran against a hot Clemson team that shot the ball well, and they did some good things. We’ll bounce back, we’ll work on the things we need to, and we’ll get ready for Notre Dame.”
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.