No. 17 Wolfpack checks depth heading to Notre Dame

North Carolina State didn't adjust well to a game without point guard Markell Johnson. That will be one of the goals for the No. 17 Wolfpack for Saturday afternoon's game at Notre Dame.

N.C. State has lost two of its last three games and had to rally to win the game in between.

Johnson didn't play Tuesday night at Wake Forest after taking a hard fall on his backside three days earlier. He didn't make the trip with the Wolfpack for that game. His status for the Notre Dame game hadn't been confirmed as of Thursday afternoon.

"Markell is a big part of our team," N.C. State guard CJ Bryce said. "We have to step into his place and play basketball."

Saturday's assignment at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind., marks the second of three consecutive road games for N.C. State (14-3, 2-2 ACC).

The reaction to Johnson's absence was ragged play in the 71-67 loss to Wake Forest. In a bizarre second half, N.C. State fell into a 22-point hole before rallying to tie.

Then some late-game malfunctions resulted in the defeat.

One issue to hit the Wolfpack was shooting. The team checked in with a season-low 37-percent rate from the field, marking the third game in a row with a new low mark.

That corresponded to a season-worst point total, only the third time this season that N.C. State didn't score at least 80 points.

"We got a lot of shots we just didn't make," senior guard Torin Dorn said. "Shots we normally make."

Without Johnson, who led the ACC in assists last season, there is going to be disruption to the offensive flow. But the Wolfpack have a deep bench that coach Kevin Keatts has turned to with regularity; nine players on the team average at least 16 minutes per game.

Notre Dame (11-6, 1-3) has its own depth issues. The Fighting Irish have had to adjust to a makeshift lineup in recent games because of injuries and illnesses.

The goal is to get junior guard T.J. Gibbs back to feeling good after he missed last Saturday's game with illness and then had trouble getting untracked in Tuesday night's 75-69 loss at No. 13 North Carolina.

"I played him 35 minutes because that really was our only option," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I thought (North Carolina) had fresh guys on him that really defended him and took him away. We need to get him back and get him 100 percent by Saturday."

Gibbs averages a team-best 14.1 points per game, although junior forward John Mooney (13.7) has helped pick up the slack. Mooney is the ACC's rebounding leader with 10.4 boards per outing.

Notre Dame will be in a second game this week with the opponent preferring a rapid pace. The Irish kept North Carolina's transition attack mostly under wraps, so that was an encouraging sign.

"I think our young group is figuring ourselves out," Brey said. "We're getting better. We're just 1/3 (in ACC play). We need to try to get another league win because they're hard to get."

Notre Dame has shot only 37.7 percent in league games, but N.C. State is allowing a league-worst 80.8 points per game in its four ACC outings.

--Field Level Media
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