Big Lineup Produces Big Results Vs. App State

Brett Friedlander

D.J. Funderburk has been lobbying NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts to let him play power forward since the start of the season.

But until Sunday, it hadn't happened often.

Because of a foot injury that has limited the Danny Dixon, the only other big man on the Wolfpack's roster, Funderburk has been limited primarily to alternating with Manny Bates at the center position.

That changed Sunday, though out of necessity not design.

Short on available backcourt personnel with C.J. Bryce sidelined in concussion protocol, Keatts was forced to play Funderburk and Bates together for an extended period in State's 72-60 win against Appalachian State. 

Funderburk finished with a career-high 22 points on 10 of 14 shooting, with nine rebounds. Bates also had nine rebounds, to go along with six points and five blocked shots. Because the big lineup was so successful, Keatts said he's likely to use it more often now that his team is heading into the bulk of its ACC schedule.

“Right now, he is not defensively where I need him to be at that position," Keatts said of Funderburk. "The way we play defensively, we switch at the 1-4 positions and he hasn’t had the chance to play (the four) often enough. 

"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 was happy to have finally gotten the opportunity to play what he believes is his natural position.

"I just never felt like I was a back to the basket player but I'll play anywhere Coach puts me on the court," he said. "That's all that was, he put me at the four I just tried to prove that I can play there."

The Wolfpack utilized a lineup with Funderburk at the four and Bates at the five for about 15 minutes Sunday.

Although the two big men did most of the scoring during their five-minute stretch together midway through the first half, their team was only plus two when Funderburk came out.

Things went much better in the second half. 

Going with the big lineup for nearly the final 10 minutes, State was plus nine, with Funderburk and Bates scoring eight of the points in a decisive 11-1 run that finally broke the game open.

The two bigs on the court at the same time didn't just help with the inside scoring and rebounding -- State won the battle of the glass by a 53-34 margin -- but they also created the spacing that gave guards Markell Johnson and Devon Daniels better driving lanes to the rim. 

"It's good to have Funderburk and Manny being in the paint, helping us out whenever we penetrate and getting open" Johnson said. "Playing with that lineup is crazy for me. You just never know what's going to happen with those two out there at the same time. ... It gives us a whole different look."

It's a look that won't work well against every matchup. But it does give Keatts another option if needed. And with only nine scholarship players available when everyone is healthy, every option is a welcome one.

You won't hear Funderburk complaining.

"It was just fun playing with my boy Manny," he said. "(App State was) 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."