Keatts Hoping To Have Funderburk, Hellems Back for Syracuse

Brett Friedlander

NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts said that D.J. Funderburk and Jericole Hellems will be "gametime decisions" Tuesday at Syracuse, but added that he's hopeful both players will be available to contribute in the key ACC matchup.

Both players are dealing with injuries suffered before or during last Wednesday's win at Miami. Hellems missed he entire game after hurting his shoulder in practice while Funderburk was limited to 14 minutes against the Hurricanes after taking an apparent blow to the head while battling for a rebound. 

"Both guys were able to get some reps up (at practice Sunday)," Keatts said Monday on the ACC's weekly coaches teleconference. "I'm hoping to have both guys be able to play (Tuesday) night."

Funderburk's injury is of particular not, since it was likely caused by contact initiated by teammate Manny Bates. The 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman was also involved in an incident at practice earlier this season that led to the Wolfpack's leading scorer C.J. Bryce to miss four games because of a concussion.

"I was blinded to the play and didn't realize Manny had hit D.J.," Keatts said. "We've had a conversation with him, and it's a joking conversation, like 'you've got to stop swinging your hands. You can't hit people.' It's unfortunate."

Bates atoned for knocking Funderburk out of the game by producing his best stat line of the season with 10 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals in 29 minutes.

Funderburk, a 6-foot-10 junior, averages 12.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting a team-best 61.3 percent from the floor. Hellems, a 6-7 sophomore, is averaging 9.3 points and 3.4 rebounds.

Almost as important as their contributions on the scoresheet, their presence in the rotation will allow the Wolfpack more of an opportunity to play the uptempo, pressing style Keatts prefers.

The good news for State is that it didn't have a game last weekend, giving it some extra time to get everyone back to full health -- something that hasn't happened often since the start of the ACC schedule.

"The biggest thing we've needed with what we've had to go through with the injuries is that our biggest practice was not to practice," Keatts said. "We were able to take off a couple of days and try to get some guys fresh. Hopefully we can build on that."

The Wolfpack (15-8, 6-6) ACC needs all the wins it can get over the final seven games of the regular season to get back on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble. Tuesday's game is an especially important one, since the game at Syracuse (14-9, 7-5) is considered a Quadrant 1 opportunity, according to the NCAA's NET ranking system.\