Someone’s perfect season will end in the Legends Classic on Saturday in Uncasville, Conn.
Both teams improved to 3-0 with impressive wins Thursday, with NC State crushing UMass Lowell, 90-59, behind Devon Daniels (18 points) and Jericole Hellems (17 points), and UConn holding on to beat Southern California, 61-58, behind James Bouknight’s 18 points.
“We don’t have a guy in the program who has played in the NCAA Tournament, and we talked about it going into this game,” UConn coach Danny Hurley said. “If you want to play games in March, you need to win games like this.”
The Huskies had trouble stopping USC’s potential NBA lottery pick, Evan Mobley, who scored 17 points.
UConn’s Josh Carlton scored nine points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds — six on the offensive glass — which impressed Hurley.
“(Carlton) kept himself ready, kept a great attitude, got a chance to play and took advantage of it. We don’t win that game today without Josh.”
NC State has been hounding teams with its defense. The Wolfpack entered Thursday’s game outscoring their opponents 64-17 off turnovers and added to that number by scoring 20 off 19 turnovers by UMass Lowell.
“We have a lot of pieces,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. “Our guys are playing hard. Our guys are buying in. I like the energy that we are providing each time out. I’m excited about it, and I look forward to continuing to watch these guys grow.”
Daniels (18.0 points per game), Hellems (14.0) and Hayes (11.3) are all scoring in double figures for the Wolfpack. Hayes also leads NC State with 5.3 assists per game.
Like NC State, UConn also boasts three double-figure scorers. Bouknight (18.7) leads the Huskies followed by R.J. Cole (11.0) and Isaiah Whaley (10.7).
UConn beat the Trojans despite shooting 34.5 percent from the field. Hurley knows a similar performance might not work against NC State, which has shot better than 50 percent from the floor in each of its three victories.
“We’re a serious work in progress offensively,” Hurley said, “but, listen, this time of year, until you’re more comfortable offensively, you’ve got to win with your defense, win with your toughness and your grit and your togetherness.”
The teams are meeting for the first time since NC State’s 69-65 win in 2012.
–Field Level Media