No. 22 North Carolina State plays pedal to the metal. No. 8 Virginia prefers to downshift. When the two teams meet in Charlottesville, Va., on Tuesday, both will be trying to establish their preferred tempo.
The stats reflect their divergent styles. While the Wolfpack pace the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring at 79.6 points per game, the Cavaliers lead the league in defense, surrendering 60.9 points per game.
Both teams enter Tuesday in fine form. NC State (19-5, 9-4 ACC) has won four straight and eight of its last nine, earning a ranking in the AP poll this week for the first time since 2019. Virginia (17-4, 9-3) has won seven of its last eight, though the lone loss came Saturday at Virginia Tech, as the Cavaliers fell 74-68.
Virginia never led but was within striking distance throughout behind Jayden Gardner (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Kihei Clark (17 points, five rebounds, four assists).
The Hokies solved the vaunted defense of the Cavaliers, hitting 50.9 percent of their shots and committing just eight turnovers.
The Cavaliers yielded 40 points in the paint on Saturday and 36 in the lane in their previous game at Syracuse.
A lineup switch that saw 6-foot-8 Ben Vander Plas take over as the starter at center for 6-foot-11 shot blocker Kadin Shedrick has helped the offensive flow and sparked the Cavaliers’ recent success.
But Vander Plas has struggled lately, averaging 3.0 points and 5.0 rebounds over his last three games. Shedrick, who has started 33 games over the last two seasons, did not play on Saturday as Virginia coach Tony Bennett stuck with his small lineup.
“You can’t play everyone,” Bennett said. “We were having some trouble, I thought, offensively against (the Hokies’) stuff, so we wanted to go with some small guys.”
NC State will bring an emerging interior force on Tuesday in DJ Burns Jr. Listed at 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Burns was forced to play a bigger role when Dusan Mahorcic (knee) was hurt in December and the team’s top rebounder Jack Clark then sustained a hip injury.
Since the start of January, Burns has averaged 17 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. On Saturday, he had 24 points and eight rebounds as NC State got past Georgia Tech, 72-64.
The Wolfpack struggled much of the way but outscored the Yellow Jackets 14-3 over the final four minutes. Burns ignited the surge with the first four points. Then Casey Morsell (17 points) hit a 3-pointer and Ernest Ross (16 points, seven rebounds) nailed down the victory by making 4 of 4 free throws.
Finding a way to win on a day when their top two scorers, Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, made just 3 of 17 shots was a good sign for the Wolfpack, said coach Kevin Keatts.
NC State closed the grind-it-out effort by forcing the Yellow Jackets into 1-for-8 shooting and three turnovers over the final four minutes. The Wolfpack have developed a clutch gene, winning their last six games decided by single-digit margins.
“We just said, ‘Hey, we gotta lock in. We gotta get stops,’ ” Keatts said. “It was really good to see us finish.”
As coach at Virginia, Bennett has a 14-5 record against NC State, but the Wolfpack have won three of the last four meetings between the teams.
–Field Level Media