Not since 2004 has a Wolfpack team started 4-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Sure, one could argue that it’s a down year for the ACC, but following a 78-73 win at Miami and a road trip to you know where waiting on Thursday evening, the hype has risen for Coach Mark Gottfried’s squad in Raleigh.
“I think our guys, as soon as the Miami game was over, their minds shifted to North Carolina. I think they will be excited, there is no question,” said Gottfried.
And they should be excited; State hasn’t entered a match-up with North Carolina (16-3, 3-1 ACC) with a better conference record than the Heels in years. Following Sunday’s victory over Miami, the Pack matched their win total from all of last year at 15.
This team is playing with confidence, and it is showing on stat sheets night in and night out. All five starters average in double-figure scoring, with an emerging Deshawn Painter coming off the bench averaging 7.8 points per game. Painter took over the game in Miami, scoring 18 points and pulling down seven rebounds while starting forward Richard Howell battled foul trouble. The balanced scoring has kept the Pack in games all season.
Even with the un-explainable loss at home to Georgia Tech, the Pack finds themselves tied atop the ACC standings. The Pack knows it should be 5-0 in conference play right now, but their sights are set on building on the early success they have earned.
“I think for our team what is important to realize is that although we’ve had a couple of nice wins we are a long, long way from where we want to be. Our guys know that,” stated Gottfried.
The players seemed to share the same view as Gottfried. Junior forward Scott Wood, who broke J.J. Redick’s streak of 54 straight free throws made when he was a perfect seven for seven at the charity stripe on Sunday, putting his streak at 58 going back to last season.
“We’re starting to play well at the right time; hopefully we can continue to get better.”
Wood leads the Pack with just over 13 points a game, scoring double-figures in all five ACC games this season. He’ll need to be at the top of his game if State is going to knock off the Heels in Chapel Hill Thursday night.
The game Thursday is far more important than just ending the winning streak that Carolina holds over the Pack. A win would go a very long way towards the Pack’s goal to make the NCAA Tournament, and would give them a great road win to add to their resume.
“Winning is what breeds confidence. We have to win big games. That’s what changes your program,” said Gottfried, and this is certainly a big game.
Just not big enough for the first-year coach to break out a red blazer like his predecessor. Who, by the way, won his first match-up against Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. Unfortunately, it would be the only time he would come out on top in the rivalry.