DENTON, Tex. (WNCN) – Cole Hellums started the game with a thunderous slam as North Carolina State went on to beat Davidson 75-61 in the first round of the NIT at UNT Coliseum in Denton, Texas.
“I thought we were great. Our ball pressure was good, we moved the ball, and we executed the game plan probably better than we’ve ever done all the entire year,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “We wanted to play inside out. Our post guys were tremendous.”
N.C. State took full advantage of its size down low, scoring 26 of 40 first-half points in the paint. Forward Manny Bates and center DJ Funderburk did the bulk of the damage. Bates had 10 points in the first half with 14 points for the game on 7-of-7 shooting. Funderburk had 16 first-half points and a game-leading 21 total off an 8-of-10 shooting night to go along with 7 rebounds.
It allowed the Wolfpack to build an 8-point advantage by the halftime break.
“Part of our game plan since Devon (Daniels) went down has been to emphasize getting it into the post or for our guards getting in to the paint,” Funderburk said. “We just try to get as many touches in the paint as we can and play inside out from there.”
“Coach emphasized try and share the ball,” Bates added. “One of his points of emphasis was to try and get half of our made field goals with an assist.”
Early in the second half, the Wildcats cut the lead to four off the old-school hook shot by Luka Brajkovic. The Wolfpack then went on a 13-3 run shortly after pushing the lead out 21 point at the nine-minute mark.
“They had a different option for every counter,” Funderburk said. “Any time we blew up something, they would just reset the play or go to the next option and just keep moving. They never stopped moving.”
Every time Davidson would hit a big shot and look like it would going to make a run, N.C. State was there with a big shot of its own to keep pace. Hellems finished with 13 points. Cam Hayes had 8 points and 5 rebounds.
“I talked with Cam Hayes right after the game and I said, ‘I need you to be a floor general,’” Keatts said. “This is a big part of why you’re here and for you to grow up and learn.”
The Wolfpack shot 58.8 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc. Now N.C. State has some time off before playing the winner of Colorado State and Buffalo next Thursday.
“We’re going to go home and tomorrow probably going to watch the Buffalo Colorado State game,” Funderburk said. “Whoever wins that game, we will prepare for the whole weekend and be ready to come back wherever the game is and perform.”
“I’m proud of these guys. They did everything we asked of them the last couple of days,” Keatts said. “If you guys could’ve been at our practice, you wouldn’t think that they would’ve known what tournament we’re playing and they were just excited and I’m happy that it went our way tonight.”