Bryce 'Trending The Right Way' For Return

Brett Friedlander

NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts remained noncomittal Tuesday on whether star wing C.J. Bryce will be available for Wednesday's game against Miami at PNC Arena.

At the same time, though, he sounded as optimistic about Bryce's return since the Wolfpack's leading scorer and rebounder was sidelined with a concussion four games ago.

"He practiced (Monday) and looked pretty good," Keatts said. "He will be a gametime decision. He is trending the right way. I'm hoping that our doctors will see what they like and that after shootaround (Wednesday) that he feels good enough to go. It's completely up to him and our doctors whether he's going to play or not. But he did have a good practice."

Bryce, who averages 16.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor, has been sidelined since taking an accidental shot to the head from teammate Manny Bates during a pregame shootaround a few hours before State's win against Appalachian State on Dec. 29.

His absence has left the Wolfpack with only eight available scholarship players. 

Not only has that affected the team's offensive production -- it is scoring at a 68.3 point per game pace over the past four games compared to 81.8 with Bryce in the lineup -- the shorter bench has also forced Keatts to shy away from using his preferred pressing, uptempo style. 

"The way we like to play, the way we like to press, the way we like to run, I think the biggest thing that has hurt us is that we don’t have another sub at the guard spot," said Keatts, whose team is 2-2 without Bryce, with both of the losses coming to ACC opponents on the road. "That’s the obvious thing.

"The other thing is that it’s tough, I don’t care what sport you are in, to have one of your better players who is also a senior in the locker room not to be there. We’re missing his production, his 16 points and he was our leading rebounder. So those are the two obvious things. I think our depth is the biggest thing because we haven’t been able to press in any of the games that he’s been out the way that we love to press."

Because the Wolfpack will still be shorthanded even after Bryce returns, Keatts said that this year's team will never completely be able to play the way he'd like. But having a full complement of players will at least give him the option of speeding up the tempo for longer stretches.

Bryce returned to practice last Friday after being cleared for "light contact" activity. He participated in pregame warmups at Virginia Tech on Saturday, but has still not gotten the green light to return to game action.

He is officially listed as day-to-day.

As much of a hardship as that status has been on Keatts and the Wolfpack, the uncertainty has had just as much of an effect on the opposition.

"It's very hard because you're talking about your matchups, you're talking about your strategy," Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. "There's a lot of things that go into game preparation and not knowing if a guy is available or not. But we'll just concentrate on doing what we do and hopefully whether (Bryce) plays or doesn't play won't impact us that much."   

His return would certainly impact the Wolfpack, which is why his teammates are so anxious to see him back on the court.

"C.J., that's one of my guys," junior forward D.J. Funderburk said. "I hope and pray he gets back as soon as he can. We definitely need him. With him, we'll be stronger like we were before."