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When Wes Moore entered the media room at Reynolds Coliseum after his team’s overtime victory Sunday over Virginia Tech, the North Carolina State women’s basketball head coach was in no mood for pretense.
Moore is a perfectionist, so that was to be expected. This time, however, he opened with stern criticism before he was asked a question during the press conference.
N.C. State, which is ranked eighth in the nation and 18-0 overall (5-0 in ACC play), has dealt with injury woes and has also been forced to overcome bouts of sloppiness at times in order to remain undefeated.
The head coach in his sixth season with the Wolfpack was blunt when assessing his own performance against the Hokies.
“There are a lot of things I am going to reflect on and say I should have done a better job,” Moore said after the Wolfpack expanded on what is the best start to a season in school history. “I am thankful to the players that they were able to pull this one out. I did not feel like I helped them as much as I should, so I was a little down on myself.”
Moore is notoriously hard on his players but they trust him to have the answers, despite his critique of himself after the Wolfpack’s latest win.
“I feel like he has a tweak for everything,” Kiara Leslie said. “He always has something in his back pocket that he pulls out to help us.”
That has been a necessary skill for Moore and not only during in-game situations. NC State has lost a pair of homegrown players to season-ending injury in former Broughton High standout Kaila Ealey and Grace Hunter, formerly of Athens Drive High.
It is next player up for the Wolfpack and another Raleigh native, Kai Crutchfield of Millbrook High, has stepped in to keep N.C. State’s streak going. Crutchfield, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, led the Pack with nine rebounds in their win over Virginia Tech.
“The rebounding totals have been good to us this year,” Moore said. “A lot of that is just ‘want-to.’ I am really proud of them.”
There is a time when the art of “want-to” is crafted.
“In practice Coach Moore is a perfectionist,” Aislinn Konig said. “He wants you to make the perfect read every time. In a game that is not going to happen but when you practice that day in, day out, you know what you are looking for and you get there. That prepares us very well”
N.C. State has a four-game stretch where the Wolfpack will travel to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest with home contests against Clemson and North Carolina bookending the slate. The Wolfpack should be favored in each one.
State was also favored against Virginia Tech, however, yet needed overtime to pull out the game in Raleigh. The Hokies are 13-5 overall but are winless in conference play. That record does not tell the whole story, as Tech has been competitive in four of the five games.
The ACC is not a league for the timid, so do not expect a respite for the Wolfpack as it navigates through a tricky conference with several legitimate Final Four contenders.
“It is not easy,” Moore said. “We have got the adversity of injuries, which we have to move on, but every day to come out and not take somebody lightly or take a day off is pretty hard to do. You see it. There is only one (undefeated) team left out of about 700 (men’s and women’s NCAA Divison I basketball programs.)
“You look at the rest of our schedule now, there is a whole lot of tough games, a whole lot of land mines in front of us, so you have just got to focus on the next game — and that is what this team has done a great job of.”
The next game for N.C. State to focus on is Thursday at home against Clemson.
JOHNSON’S RETURN UNCERTAIN
N.C. State men’s head coach Kevin Keatts spoke to the media Tuesday prior to the 21st-ranked Wolfpack making the trip to Louisville on Thursday to face the No. 23 Cardinals.
The Wolfpack enters the game at 15-3 overall, 3-2 in the ACC. Louisville is 13-5 on the campaign and 4-1 in league play.
A major topic was the status of junior guard Markell Johnson, who injured his back after taking a nasty fall against Pittsburgh on Jan. 12. Johnson has missed both of the Pack’s games since, and State has split the pair of road games with the finale of a three-game road swing looming.
Johnson averages 11.6 points and 4.1 assists per game this season. He has drilled almost half of his 3-point attempts (29 of 63 for 46 percent) and is shooting a robust 56.8 percent from the floor (67 of 118 on field-goal attempts).
“He’s a guy that could play on Thursday or could play three or four weeks from now,” Keatts said on Tuesday. “I’m not going to play him until he feels mentally and physically ready to play. There won’t be any pressure on our end. We’re prepared to go into every game without him. If he’s able to play, feels he can play, and the doctors and trainers say he can play we’d definitely love to have him back in our lineup somewhere playing.”
The junior has been practicing with the team but it is not at full strength.
“He’s getting shots up with no contact at this point,” Keatts said. “He’s not moving really fast. Anything we do at the beginning where we get shots up and there is no contact and we break down into post and perimeter, he participates in that.”
While the timetable for Johnson’s return is unclear, Keatts is confident that Johnson is getting better daily.
“I think he feels better each day,” Keatts said. “I typically get a report from our trainer right after practice and every night, and the report last night was he felt better after working out [Monday].
“It’s one of those deals where if you look at it, he took a pretty nasty fall. He doesn’t have a lot of meat in that area and fell on his back so he’s really, really sore.”
FOOTBALL STAFF NEAR COMPLETION
N.C. State’s football staff had some changes over the past week but the latest defection was quickly addressed.
After Eddie Faulkner left the Wolfpack for the NFL to become the running backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he will join his former pupil Jaylen Samuels, N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren swiftly made his move to secure a replacement.
Todd Goebbel comes to Raleigh and joins Doeren’s staff as the new tight ends coach and special teams coordinator for the Wolfpack after spending the previous five seasons at Marshall.
While with the Thundering Herd, Goebbel recruited the southern Georgia area — a point of emphasis for N.C. State — along with northern and southwestern Florida. He also handled his home state of Ohio. He was Marshall’s recruiting coordinator in 2016 when the program hauled in four four-star prospects for the first time in its history.
“My family and I would like thank Coach Doeren and N.C. State for giving us the opportunity to join the rich Wolfpack tradition and this special football family,” Goebbel said in a statement released by the school. “I have had great respect for what he has built, both on and off the field, and I am excited to be on this coaching staff that is completely committed to bringing a championship to Raleigh.”
The addition of Goebbel completes the main portion of the coaching staff and leaves only an opening at the defensive quality control position.
Doeren’s staff looks like this going into the 2019 season:
Des Kitchings: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs
George McDonald: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers
Kurt Roper: Quarterbacks
John Garrison: Offensive Line
Dave Huxtable: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
Tony Gibson: Co-Defensive Coordinators/Safeties
George Barlow: Assistant Coach for Defense/Cornerbacks
Kevin Patrick: Defensive Line
Aaron Henry: Nickels
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.