Shorthanded Wolfpack holds off App State

Brett Friedlander

Coaches like to say that a loss isn't a complete loss if your team learns something from it.

If that's the case, then NC State's season opening basketball setback to Georgia Tech just became a little more palatable.

Because for 31 minutes Sunday, the Wolfpack appeared on the way to repeating the same mistake that cost it that earlier game against the Yellow Jackets. 

Despite leading most of the way while playing shorthanded, coach Kevin Keatts' team allowed Appalachian State to stay within contention past the midway point of the second half. But this time instead of faltering down the stretch, State finished with strong, turning a slim two-point lead into a 72-60 win at PNC Arena in the final game of its nonconference schedule.

"I like the way our guys responded," Keatts said after his team improved to 10-3 on the season. "It was one of those games that if they weren't prepared or mentally tough enough we could have folded a little bit. But I thought our guys locked in and finished the game."

Like the opener against Georgia Tech, in which point guard Markell Johnson and big man D.J. Funderburk were sidelined, the Wolfpack played Sunday's game without a key piece of its lineup. 

Leading scorer and rebounder C.J. Bryce missed the game after suffering a possible concussion during his team's pregame shootaround.

State also suffered through a frigid shooting night in which it made only five of its 25 3-point attempts against an App State defense similar in style to that of Virginia. It compensated by dominating in the paint, outrebounding the Mountaineers 53-34 and getting a career performance from Funderburk.

"He will see a lot of time hopefully in the ACC because of roster at the four position," Keatts said. "But I've got to get him a little more extra time in practice at that place. But I thought the big lineup was great."

Funderburk contributed 22 points and nine rebounds, with much of his damage done from the power forward position in a lineup that also featured 6-11 teammate Manny Bates. It's an alignment Keatts has used only sparingly this season, despite Funderburk's urging.

In this case, Keatts had little choice but to play his team best big men together because of the shortage of backcourt personnel caused by Bryce's absence.

Not only did Funderburk make the most of the situation, but Bates also contributed nine rebounds and five blocks, to go along with six points.

"It was just fun playing with my boy Manny," Funderburk said. "They were worried about him getting the rebounding or scoring and then they've got to worry about me. So that takes pressure off Manny and the guards. One guy scoring a lot takes pressure off everybody else and everybody else can eat, too."

And nobody left the table hungry.

Devon Daniels finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Johnson, coming off his triple-double last week against The Citadel, nearly did it again with 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for his third straight game with at least a double-double.

Although the Wolfpack only forced a season-low 10 turnovers -- the result of less defensive pressure because of the shorter bench -- there were plenty of positives to go around.

Especially the way it closed out the game against a dangerous opponent that nearly made up a 30-point deficit in a single-digit loss at Michigan earlier this season.

According to Daniels, his team's performance over the final nine minutes -- in which it reversed the trend it set against Georgia Tech by outscoring App State 22-12 -- proves that State is ready to face the challenge of ACC play that awaits it the rest of the way.

"That's just us improving as a team." Daniels said. "We're trying to get better every game, clean up certain areas and I feel like we finished the game good."