Notebook: NC State takes advantage of size inside
NC State basketball redshirt junior D.J. Funderburk didn’t ask Santa Claus for some more power forward minutes, but he did get that “present” Sunday.
Funderburk was a strong presence from the moment he was inserted into the game with 17:41 left in the first half. He went 10 of 14 from the field and had a career-high 22 points, plus nine rebounds and a block, in 28 minutes.
The fun for the 6-foot-10 Funderburk came when he got to play at the same time with 6-11 redshirt freshman center Manny Bates, which helped power NC State to a 72-60 win over Appalachian State at PNC Arena.
“I just have never felt that I’m a back-to-the-basket player,” Funderburk said. “I’ll play anywhere coach puts me on the court. He put me at the four, and I just tried to prove that I could play the four.”
Funderburk and Bates had not played more than a few minutes together going into the game. However, the duo have played together in practice often.
“I think what coach does is if he sees a look on the defensive side from the other team, he’ll put me at the four and Manny at the five,” Funderburk said.
Redshirt junior wing Devon Daniels said that Funderburk’s excitement level goes up when he’s playing with Bates.
“He does, and I won’t lie to you,” Daniels said. “He played well for us tonight. I’m happy for him. He always plays hard.”
Bates added six points, nine rebounds and five blocks in 24 minutes played. NCSU coach Kevin Keatts was excited about the five blocked shots, but he still prefers playing small ball.
“I’m sure our fans and you guys [the media] will love it a lot more than me,” Keatts said. “[Funderburk] is not, defensively ... where I need him to be at the four because he hasn’t played that position where we switch one-through-four.
“I thought the big lineup played great.”
Keatts half-joked that Funderburk had fellow Cleveland, Ohio, product Markell Johnson looking out for him.
“Markell is a guy who always makes plays, and that is his buddy, so he always finds him,” Keatts said.
Bates said his role doesn’t really change whether he plays with Funderburk or if either sophomore Jericole Hellems or senior Pat Andree are at power forward. His bread and butter is blocking shots and getting rebounds.
“I love playing with D.J.,” Bates said. “It’s so much fun. I think he just has more fun playing power forward than center. He had a little bit more fight in him today.”
C.J. Bryce suffers pre-game concussion
NC State announced prior to tip-off that fifth-year senior wing C.J. Bryce would miss the game due to a possible concussion. Keatts provided context on when it happened following the win.
“It is the weirdest thing,” Keatts said. “We are in shoot-around. Our shoot-arounds are nothing like they used to be. We go 45 minutes.
“It was the last play. We were anticipating they might run a 1-2-2 press against us, and we were going over our press-breaker. They broke the press, and Manny gets a dunk. Somehow, C.J. is right there and challenging it, and he [Bates] hits him with his hand up here [on his head]. He was a little bit woozy.”
Bryce entered the game leading the Wolfpack with 16.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest, while shooting 52.9 percent from the field.
NC State went with primarily a seven-man rotation in Bryce’s absence. Backup fifth-year senior center Danny Dixon played two minutes and freshman walk-ons Max Farthing and Chase Graham came in at the end.
Bryce’s absence led to heavier workloads for the three remaining scholarship perimeter players. Daniels was aggressive from the opening tip in getting to the rim, plus hit a pair of corner three-pointers. He finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and four steals in 37 minutes.
Johnson had 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes, while junior combo guard Braxton Beverly played 36 minutes.
Hellems also got to play more at small forward and had eight points in 20 minutes of action.
“All of us compete every day, and all of us practice hard,” Daniels said. “With him not playing, we just had to do what we do to get the win.”
Schedule to pick up in a week
NC State plays its third ACC game of the year when it travels to Clemson on Jan. 4. Having just two games from Dec. 20 until Jan. 3 is a different twist on the schedule, but the Wolfpack players said they’ll be ready. The struggling Tigers have lost five of their last six games and are 6-6 overall and 0-2 in the ACC.
“We are going to keep it humble, but we definitely are ready for every opponent,” Funderburk said. “We are just going to play at our best and come out with a win every time. That is a best-case scenario.”
Keatts isn’t sure if the layoff will help or hurt the Wolfpack, but he’s eager to find out.
“It is a little weird, but I don’t think it will stay this way the whole time,” Keatts said. “We were challenged in our non-conference, and I like our non-conference schedule. I thought we got a lot out of it.
“We are prepared to go into ACC play, but as you know, it’s tough. Our guys have to be physically and mentally ready to play.”