Cavaliers’ Defense Dominates Win Over NC State

Ken Cross

February 10, 2023 at 10:15 am.

The No. 8 Virginia Cavaliers crafted their best defensive game of the season on Tuesday night when they stopped No. 22 NC State, 63-50, in Charlottesville.

The Cavaliers held the Wolfpack 29 points under their season average of 79.6 points per game. In addition, NCSU is a team that thrives on the inside-outside attack of guards Terquavion Smith, Jarkel Joiner, and Casey Morsell with the inside play of D.J. Burns.

Tuesday night, the Cavaliers minimized Smith and stopped Joiner and Burns in holding NC State to 33 percent from the floor on 19-of-57 shooting.

Virginia was looking for a panacea for the defensive ills of Saturday’s 74-68 loss at Virginia Tech. The Hokies shot 50.9 percent from the field. The Hokie scored 40 points in the paint and assisted 19 of 27 made shots.

“The message was just getting back to our ways and getting back to the Pack (Pack Line Defense) and kind of just do what we know we could do and know what we are capable of,” said Cavaliers guard Reece Beekman.

The Wolfpack could have felt warned in playing a defensive-minded team away from Raleigh as the Cavaliers were smarting after the loss to Virginia Tech. It took Virginia out of potentially being alone in first place in the ACC, but Tuesday’s win kept the Cavs tied for first with Pitt and Clemson.

“Talk is cheap,” said Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett, about the message in practice between the Virginia Tech loss and Tuesday. “Show up. Work in practice. Step between the lines and don’t lose yourself in anything but what your job is.”

Virginia primarily used the athletic presence of Reece Beekman on Smith, who led the ‘Pack with 19 points, but only made 7-of-20 field goals with three triples.

The irony is that Smith has clearly played as one of the best and most consistent guards in college basketball. He currently averages 18.5 points per game with 4.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds while netting 34.7 percent of his three-point shots.

“He’s a really good basketball player,” said Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts. “You know we need really great production from him. … I think tonight because Jarkel didn’t have a Jarkel Joiner night, I think there was a lot of pressure on Terquavion.”

Virginia was able to hold Joiner to 2-of-14 from the field and only five points as the Cavaliers’ defense halted NCSU’s two leading scorers and didn’t allow them to be able to have any control in the game.

“Being tough and sound and two feet in commitment to defense because I don’t think we have been that way,” explained Bennett of the attitude that he wants from his Cavaliers. “If we want to be as good as we can, everyone has to stay committed and it won’t be perfect, but has to be a tougher, sounder mindset.”

Taking away the threat of 6-9, 275-pound D.J. Burns in the paint was impactful for the Cavaliers as well. Burns scored eight points in 21 minutes on 4-of-6 shooting.

The athleticism and length of Kaden Shedrick in the middle, plus Virginia’s double-teaming Burns, was impactful. Shedrick scored 10 points and had six rebounds as his defensive ability seemed to keep Burns out of manifesting a comfort zone.

“He came ready, his length was there and he fought,” said Bennett. “We thought if we were going to trap, Kadin’s length would be good.”

As the traps merged on Burns, it seemed he had to catch out of his comfortable areas which then took away his scoring ability as he had made 30-of-53 field goals and averaged 23.3 points per game in the three games before Tuesday.

“D.J. never really got into a flow and I thought they did a good job of obviously taking him out of the game,” commented Keatts. “Obviously, when he is out of the game, we become a very perimeter team.”


Transitioning to the Opponent: Former Virginia star Casey Morsell is North Carolina State’s third-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game as he is the Wolfpack’s top three-point threat in making 44 percent of his three-point shots.

On Tuesday night, he had the most offensive consistency that NCSU could find. He finished with 18 points in making 6-of-11 field goals, while he was 4-of-9 from the three-point line.

“As I said on my radio show the other night, I wish Casey would have never transferred,” explained Bennett. “I wish all the guys we have brought in here wouldn’t have.”

Morsell averaged 34.4 minutes per game and he is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor as his offensive game has taken an accelerated move forward at North Carolina State. 

“He’s really playing good ball and he’s a key for that team and I wish him nothing but the best,” said Bennett.