What's wrong with C.J. Bryce?

Brett Friedlander

Like a baseball pitcher that suddenly can't find the strike zone or a golfer with the yips on short putts, C.J. Bryce has suddenly and inexplicably lost his ability to do something that has always come naturally to him on the basketball court.

Put the ball in the basket.

NC State's leading scorer through most of the season, Bryce has gone without a point over the past two games while missing 12 straight field goal attempts since knocking down a clutch game-winning jumper in the final seconds against Virginia nine days ago.

His slump has been a major contributing factor to the Wolfpack's two straight losses -- Saturday at Georgia Tech and Monday against rival North Carolina.

And the worst thing is that nobody, not even Bryce, seems to know what has changed or what is wrong.

"I'm physically okay, 100 percent," he said after his team's 75-65 loss to the previously struggling Tar Heels, adding that he doesn't think anything is mechanically wrong with his shooting stroke, either.

"I've just got to get back going. The shots that I usually make. they're just not coming right now. I've jot to get back in the gym and get those shots up."

Bryce was shooting 51 percent from the floor and averaging better than 16 points per game while making 10 of his 22 3-point attempts before suddenly going cold.

Although those numbers dipped slightly after his return from a four-game absence while recovering from a concussion, he was still one of the best players on the floor for the Wolfpack.

But that suddenly changed in Atlanta last Saturday.

The 6-foot-5 redshirt senior appeared to lose his confidence after missing all four of his first half shots against Georgia Tech, because he didn't attempt another one over the final 20 minutes of State's 64-58 loss.

He wasn't as gun shy against the Tar Heels. But his shot selection was noticeably different than when things are going well for him.

He attacked the rim only once, missing a layup early in the second half. All seven of his other attempts were mid-range jumpers or 3-pointers, none of which went in.

Coach Kevin Keatts, who was with Bryce at UNC Wilmington before both came to State in 2017 and knows him better than anyone on the team, is as much at a loss for what's wrong as his star player. 

But he said it's something "we've got to figure out, because C.J. is a big part of who we are."

"We'd become so reliant on him," Keatts said. "When you take away his 15-16 points (per game), we're a totally different team."

The closest Bryce had previously come to this level of futlity came when he twice went scoreless during his freshman season at UNCW. But even then, those games came nearly three months apart.

Keatts said that the only way for Bryce to get himself right by the time State returns to the court is to return to the practice gym and "just see the ball go in.

"I've coached him for three years and I don't know that he's had a stretch of two games where he's been 0 for 12," Keatts said. "I didn't think he was aggressive at all at Georgia Tech. As a matter of fact, I thought he passed up on a lot of shots.

"(Monday), I thought he came out very aggressive. It just didn't go down for him. So I'm going to stick with him. We've got to get him better."

Until that happens and the basket starts looking a little bigger than the eye of a needle, Bryce said he has to find other ways to help his team, something he hasn't exactly done to this point.

"I still have to continue to impact the game when I’m not scoring with rebounds and assists. That’s something I’ve been lacking in also," he said. "I’ve just got to do a better job of bringing energy to the guys.

"Everyone goes through slumps. Actually, I think I had one my freshman year. That was the last one I had. But like I said, it’s all about getting back in the gym and getting myself better."

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