RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried figures his young Wolfpack squad accomplished about as much as it could during a tumultuous nonconference season.
He’ll soon find out if he was right.
Freshman Dennis Smith Jr. had 19 points and a season-high 16 assists to help the Wolfpack beat Rider 99-71 on Wednesday night in the team’s final tuneup before starting Atlantic Coast Conference play this weekend.
Fellow rookie Omer Yurtseven added a season-high 16 points in his first start for N.C. State (11-2), which has won six straight - the past four coming by at least 21 points each time. The offense has been humming, the defense has been better and the team is whole after playing without Yurtseven (NCAA issue) and Maverick Rowan (concussion) for multiple games.
“I think our team’s farther along now,” Gottfried said. “You never know all the way for sure, but probably the way I look at it is the most important thing I see is: are we getting better? Are we getting better defensively? Are we getting better executing our offense? Are we getting better rebounding the ball? And I do think we are.”
The numbers would certainly say so.
N.C. State is averaging 96 points over the past four games and shot 56 percent in this one. The team came in with five players averaging in double figures, then had six get there Wednesday.
And defensively, the Wolfpack held Rider (8-5) to 24-percent shooting (9 for 38) in the first half and 37 percent for the game.
“We’re going into conference play and we’re rolling right now,” Smith said. “We’re beating teams how we’re supposed to beat them lately, and that’s a good sign.”
Smith had eight assists by halftime and had a highlight-reel takeoff and throwdown dunk early in the second half, extending his recent strong play by setting a PNC Arena single-game assists record and posting the most by a Wolfpack player in nearly 26 years.
“We got our behinds handed to us by those guys,” Rider coach Kevin Baggett said.
Rider: The Broncs have had success in close games this year, winning four games by three or fewer points. But Rider never gave itself any shot to stay close with a horrendous offensive start, with the Broncs missing 24 of their first 29 shots.
N.C. State: A couple of things stood out here, starting with Yurtseven’s play offering another indication he’s settling in after missing the first nine games in an NCAA eligibility dispute.
Then there was the defense.
“What’s happened to us is we’ve eliminated some blow-bys,” Gottfried said. “We’ve eliminated where we’ve lost our guy or lost vision. Our ballscreen defense is a little better. We’re communicating a little bit better.”
THEY SAID IT
“From what I watched on film, I knew he was good. To see it up front and in person, that kid’s got everything it takes to be a pro.” - Baggett on Smith.
Rider: Stevie Jordan scored 14 points. … Norville Carey had 10 points and 10 rebounds. … Rider made 5 of 18 3-pointers, four coming after the Wolfpack had built a 40-25 halftime lead. … Rider committed 12 turnovers that led to 23 points for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State: Smith’s 16 assists were the most by a Wolfpack player since Chris Corchiani had 20 against Maryland in February 1991. … The Wolfpack finished with a 50-35 rebounding advantage, led by Abdul-Malik Abu (12 points, 12 rebounds) and freshman Ted Kapita (season-high 11 boards). … Yurtseven made 7 of 11 shots to go with five rebounds in 21 minutes. … N.C. State has its best start since going 14-2 to open the 2012-13 season.
Rider visits Monmouth on Saturday in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play.
N.C. State visits Miami on Saturday to start ACC play.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.