No. 8 Virginia frustrates No. 22 NC State in taking 63-50 ACC basketball victory

For N.C. State, the timing was bad.

Virginia was playing at home Tuesday, coming off a loss, determined there would not be two in row. Losing to Virginia Tech ended the Cavaliers’ seven-game winning streak. That did not sit well and it would show in their intensity, with and without the ball.

In came N.C. State, confident, hot, having won four games in a row and eight of nine, after a 20th win. The Wolfpack was ranked this week, the talk of the ACC.

But the No. 8 Cavaliers were at their best, making the No. 22 Wolfpack look very average in the first half at John Paul Jones Arena in taking a 63-50 victory.

“They came out with a lot of energy and fire,” NCSU coach Kevin Keatts said. “And we knew that coming in. Any time you’re going to play a good defensive team on their home floor, you know you’re going to get that energy.”

Virginia (18-4, 10-3 ACC) frustrated the Pack (19-6, 9-5) at every turn the first 20 minutes of the game, rolling up a 34-20 halftime lead. The Cavaliers, led by Jayden Gardner’s 18 points, pushed the lead to 20 in the second half before turning back a late push by the Wolfpack.

“I thought the bad news for us in the first half was we let the score get away from us,” Keatts said. “In the past we’ve been able to control tempo and to get those guys to play a little faster and turn them over. But we couldn’t. Their guards did a great job of controlling tempo ... and were very aggressive in getting to the paint.”

The Pack’s Terquavion Smith, who couldn’t locate his shooting touch in the first half, was better in the second and finished with 19 points on 7-for-20 shooting.

Casey Morsell, who played two seasons for Virginia before transferring to NCSU, was booed by UVa fans in pregame introductions in his first game back in Charlottesville. The senior guard responded by scoring 18 points in another solid game for the Wolfpack.

“I just wanted to come out here and get a Quad-1 win for the program,” Morsell said. “I tried to make the game as normal as possible. I tried not to see anybody, tried to be low key and eliminate all the distractions that come from playing here. I was just focused on trying to win the game. Whatever it was, it was just noise.”

The Cavaliers doubled Pack big man D.J. Burns inside defensively, taking him away, limiting him to eight points, forcing him into six turnovers. Guard Kihei Clark stayed tight to Jarkel Joiner, keeping the point guard in check -- Joiner had five points on 2-for-14 shooting.

North Carolina State’s Jarkel Joiner (1) is defended by Virginia’s Kihei Clark (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Mike Kropf)
North Carolina State’s Jarkel Joiner (1) is defended by Virginia’s Kihei Clark (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Mike Kropf)

Smith, the ACC’s leading scorer, like Joiner was coming off a five-point game against Georgia Tech that was his lowest offensive output of the season.

Against Virginia, Smith got his shots – 13 in the first half. Several were forced or off-balance as Keatts continues to allow the sophomore guard the opportunity to shoot when he wants, wherever he wants.

At halftime, Smith said he was “all flustered.” He did begin to find the range in the second half, getting some 3’s to fall, but the Virginia lead was too big.

The Pack tried to make a late-game push, twice pulling within nine points in the second half with the ball. But on the first possession, Burns had a cross-court pass picked off by Reece Beekman. Next, Greg Gantt had a dunk blocked by Virginia’s Isaac McKneely.

“We fought,” Keatts said. “I thought in the second half we tried to put a little game pressure on them. But at the end of the day, it go away from us in the first half. When you’re down 14 at the half against a team that controls tempo, it’s almost like being down 22 points.

“I thought we fought back. We had our opportunities. But give Virginia credit. I thought they did what they needed to do at home.”

It was a nightmarish game for Burns, who has played so well and with such enthusiasm for the Pack this season. Loose before the game, he appeared tight in it, picking up a flagrant foul – Keatts upset with the refs about the call – in the second half.

“DJ never really got into a flow,” Keatts said.

All the numbers were positive for Virginia, which hosts Duke in its next game. The Cavaliers held the Pack to 25.8% shooting in the first half (8-of-31). They outscored the Wolfpack 32-12 in the paint for the game and had 17 points off the Pack’s 12 turnovers.

The Pack, which likes to push the ball in transition, had two fast-break points. On one play, Joiner missed an easy fast-break layup. It was that kind of game for the Wolfpack.