Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to The Wilson Times.
There has been a seminal moment. Now Kevin Keatts wants his team to turn the page while continuing to bond and grow.
N.C. State, fresh off its second win of a school ranked in the top two this season, now prepares for its first chance at revenge as the Clemson Tigers will make the trip north to Raleigh to square off with the Wolfpack at PNC Arena in a Thursday matchup.
Clemson dispatched N.C. State by 16 points on Dec. 30 in the ACC opener for both schools.
The Wolfpack, which was also throttled 88-58 at Notre Dame on Jan. 3, then rebounded to win its ACC home opener 96-85 Saturday against No. 2 Duke. Unlike its other big win, a victory over then second-ranked Arizona at the Battle-4-Atlantis in the Bahamas on Nov. 22, N.C. State had some time to bask in its second big upset win.
Keatts knows that the journey towards respectability and then contending is not one where a team can simply hang its hat on one effort.
“We certainly know what we are capable of but we have to find a way to try to play that way every time out,” Keatts said. “I think that is the biggest thing with our guys, just to be a little bit more consistent every night.
“It has been exciting. Obviously, we came off a very good win on Saturday night and we got a much needed break so we didn’t have practice (Sunday). It was good to enjoy the win but certainly we have to get back to work and, starting (Monday) concentrate on Clemson.”
Playing a conference game prior to the turn of the new year is odd.
Yet not only did N.C. State have to deal with the anomaly of playing a league game in December but now the Wolfpack has a rematch against Clemson in only its fourth ACC game of the regular season.
The rigors of ACC are well-chronicled. While facing a team twice in the first four conference games may be unprecedented, it is just another challenge that goes with the territory.
“It is funny,” the first-year head coach said. “I don’t have a choice. Obviously, the ACC is so tough that I think that all coaches — and I think especially for me — that I just look at the next game and the next opponent that we have and I really don’t have a choice in it. It is a schedule that we have and we have got to be ready to play.”
As Keatts and the Wolfpack attempt to navigate through conference play and lay a foundation for the program going forward, the hope is for N.C. State to use its win over Duke to generate a stretch of play that can move things forward.
In that regard, Clemson coming into town Thursday is equally as important of a game as the Blue Devil win.
To do that, N.C. State will have to adapt to add returning pieces as it grows. Whether it has been suspensions or injury, the Wolfpack still has not been full strength in Keatts’ inaugural campaign in Raleigh.
“I am pretty much like everybody this time of year, you are trying to get everybody on the same page and actually get everybody on the floor together,” Keatts said. “Our biggest challenge is that, obviously blending everyone in, in that we have got a couple of fifth-year transfers, a couple of freshmen and then some returners, just trying get everybody in there and get our chemistry together.
“Then having (senior forward) Malik Abu out for a certain amount of time certainly did not help our cause. Trying to work him back in where he is starting to feel a little bit more comfortable with what is going on and also with Markell Johnson’s situation has obviously been a challenge for us but for the most part I think our guys are doing an extremely good job of working. I feel like we are taking big steps towards getting better every day.”
Three N.C. State recruits participated in the 2018 U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday in San Antonio, Texas. Payton Wilson of Orange (Hillsborough) High School, Alim McNeill of Sanderson (Raleigh) High School and Ricky Person of Heritage (Wake Forest) all saw action with Person rushing for 39 yards in the contest — including a 35-yard romp.
N.C. State is making a hard push for class of 2019 defensive tackle Joshua Harris of Person (Roxboro) High School. The rising senior recently appeared at the U.S. Army All-American Camp in San Antonio and was reportedly impressive.
“My first offer came from State,” Harris said. “It was last summer when I went to their camp. The coaches at State saw something in me before others did and offered. I wasn’t really surprised because I know I did really good at the camp but still I was happy.
“N.C. State for sure is recruiting me the hardest. They’ve been on me the longest, they come to my school when they can, we text all the time, stuff like that. I know how much they want me.”