December 3, 2020 

ACC notebook: Sights and sounds covering live games in COVID

Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley, UNC's Petra Holešínská start strong

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Instead of a traditional bench, N.C. State has stations for each player, equipped with a towel, bottle and mask. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

RALEIGH, N.C. — College basketball looks a bit different this season, obviously, due to COVID-19. In a place like Reynolds Coliseum, it sounds different too.

Whenever N.C. State’s women’s basketball team played a home game last season, the historic arena was usually packed to the brim with around 5,000 fans. When Elissa Cunane converted a lay-up while getting fouled, or when Kai Crutchfield sank a three-pointer, the folks in the bleachers erupted. The place rocked.

Unfortunately, capacity is extremely limited in most basketball venues this season. When the Wolfpack thumped North Florida last Wednesday, there were only about 25 or so people there that weren’t playing, coaching, staffing or covering the game. Most of them were family members of the players.

And while they cheered as loud as they could from behind their masks, N.C. State’s supporters couldn’t alter the strange atmosphere.

“It was really weird,” Cunane said. “When we went out for warmups, it felt like another practice… We knew that all the Reynolds’ fans were still behind us.”

For others, like sophomore forward Jada Boyd, it was just another game. She posted her second career double-double in the Wolfpack’s win over the Ospreys.

“Honestly, it didn’t really feel any different to me, because I try not to pay attention to the crowd,” Boyd told The Next. “I try to focus in on the court and our coaches.”

While N.C. State played well, it was hard to not look at everything else inside Reynolds Coliseum.

No media members sat on the floor, as most were seated at a table on the upper concourse behind the baseline, each with a seat between them for social distancing. By the time I arrived to the game, most of those seats were taken. Rather than try to squeeze myself in, I grabbed a seat in the bleachers. There was nobody within at least 20 feet of me, and I felt relatively safe while taking notes and photos. The only time I didn’t wear a mask was to briefly sip on the bottle of Grape Propel I brought, and to eat lunch (a peanut butter Clif Bar) at halftime.

The only mask-less people in the gym were the 10 players on the court. When they subbed out, they didn’t go to a bench. They went to a personal station of sorts that was a seat with a shelf behind it. There, a player could find a towel, a mask and a bottle. After rehydrating, they put their mask on until their number was called again. Each station was spaced out from others by about six feet.

Referees wore masks too and kept hand sanitizer at the scorers’ table. The folks working there wore masks and face shields. One staffer was assigned to clean off basketballs.

When the game was over and players retreated to the locker room, a staffer wearing a sort of jug on his back with a hose attached to it came around and sprayed disinfectant on everything. The contraption looked a bit like something you would use to kill weeds with. Meanwhile, I walked to my car to hop on the post-game Zoom call.

(One good thing about covering games in a pandemic: Less traffic on college campuses, more available parking spaces closer to the arena.)

While all of this might seem strange and unorthodox, it’s important to remember that it’s necessary. If college basketball is to continue this season, everyone has to follow the rules and do whatever is required to stay safe. And even still, that might not be enough. As we’ve seen just a week into the season, the next game is never guaranteed.

An N.C. State staffer sprays disinfectant after the Wolfpack’s game vs. North Florida on Nov. 25, 2020. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

Standout stats

  • East Carolina was second in the nation in turnovers-forced per-game last season with 24.1. On Sunday in Charlottesville, in the Pirates’ 54-51 win over Virginia, they forced the ‘Hoos into 25 turnovers. ECU scored 24 points off those Virginia turnovers. The 0-2 Cavaliers host James Madison on Thursday.

  • North Carolina scored 96 points in its win over UNC-Greensboro on Saturday, the most the Tar Heels have ever scored under second-year head coach Courtney Banghart. In her first game back in Carolina Blue, grad transfer Stephanie Watts tallied four points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds in 21 minutes.

  • In her first three games as a Tar Heel, Illinois grad transfer Petra Holešínská is shooting 10-of-18 from three-point land, a 55.6% clip.

  • Through three games, UNC has six players averaging double figures and a seventh, freshman Kennedy Todd-Williams, is at 9.3 points per game. Holešínská and freshman Anya Poole are both averaging 13.3 points per-game.

  • N.C. State hung 108 points on N.C. Central on Sunday, marking the most points the Wolfpack have scored in a single game since the 1995-96 season. Elissa Cunane led the way with 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the floor, and five other N.C. State players scored in double-digits too.

  • Pitt guard Dayshanette Harris had 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the Panthers 71-58 win over Hofstra on Sunday. Just two games into her sophomore season, Harris has led Pitt in assists in 18 games so far in her career. She had a +21 rating Sunday, the best among all players on the floor.

  • Elizabeth Kitley has registered a double-double in each of her first three games for Virginia Tech this season, all wins for the Hokies. Voted as ACC Freshman of the Year a season ago, Kitley leads the Hokies in scoring and rebounding with 15.7 points and 13 boards per-game. She’s also shooting 66.7% from the floor and has blocked five shots thus far.

  • Virginia Tech is currently second in the country in three-pointers made with 42. The only team with more is FGCU, which has 44 makes in four games.

They said it

  • UVA head coach Tina Thompson after the Cavaliers’ loss to ECU: “As a coaching staff, we remind each other and we remember that our kids are really, really young. Just the change in our roster, for sure it changes the dynamic for us, and a lot of people are in roles that they weren’t in before. The fact that they’re not running away from the opportunity is really important and it’s something that we can for sure and build on.”

  • Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey on Dara Mabrey’s career-high 34 points vs. Ohio: “She’s just relentless. She’s been the heart and soul of this team, even being a newcomer.”

  • UNC forward Janelle Bailey after the Tar Heels’ 96-35 win over UNCG: “I thought this game we had way better defensive intensity. I thought we picked that up, and that was something we harped on over the past few days… It’s good to have (Stephanie Watts) back in Carolina blue, or white. I definitely missed playing with her.”

  • Duke head coach Kara Lawson on freshman guard Vanessa de Jesus: “V is like a veteran even though she’s just a freshman. You can see it when you watch her. She’s very composed, doesn’t get rattled, understands the game at a high level, knows how to make reads, and understands how to get people involved. She’s a great player to coach and it makes you excited. Through the course of the season there’ll be ups and downs for her like there is every freshman, but she’s off to a solid start because she’s a worker and because she’s got a high level of skill and a high level of intelligence with the way that she plays.”

  • Pitt head coach Lance White on the Panthers’ 2-0 start: “We’ve shown glimpses of really good basketball… You see moments and now, you want more and more from those kids. Being able to understand value of possessions and how energy and all of those things that we have to keep growing in. But there are a lot of really good moments and I’m excited about the future of what I think we can become.”

  • Virginia Tech senior guard Aisha Sheppard after her 22 points (5-of-10 from three) vs. George Washington: “Shooters shoot. I have that mentality. My coaches and teammates give me a lot of confidence. If I miss one, I know I got to shoot the next one.”

Another thing about N.C. State

N.C. State sophomore Jada Boyd fights around a North Florida defender for a shot on Nov. 25, 2020 at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

I wasn’t expecting Wes Moore to start Jada Boyd in N.C. State’s opener vs. North Florida, but he did. And he did it again on Sunday vs. N.C. Central, and Boyd didn’t disappoint. The sophomore had 15 points and 10 rebounds against the Ospreys and 13 points, two rebounds and two steals against the Eagles.

There’s no question that Boyd is talented, and I’m not questioning her ability to start. I just always considered her to be more of a traditional forward rather than someone who can play on the wing, defend smaller and quicker players, and knock down a couple three-pointers. Needless to say, her game has improved.

“I felt like I could’ve been better on the defensive end because I gave away a few buckets, but overall, I feel like I did a pretty good job,” Boyd said after the Wolfpack’s win over North Florida. “Over the offseason, I definitely worked on my shot a little bit, just to get some consistency with it.”

Moore went big with the Wolfpack’s first two line-ups of the season, rolling out the Boyd and fellow forward Kayla Jones — both 6-foot-2 — next to the towering Elissa Cunane. Jakia Brown-Turner and Kai Crutchfield shared the backcourt; neither of whom played much point guard last season with Ace Konig still around. Because of that, I assumed Cal State Fullerton transfer and 2020 Big West Player of the Year Raina Perez would start at the point, sliding Crutchfield to the two, Brown-Turner to the three and Boyd to a sixth-woman role.

But Crutchfield was pretty flawless in her two starts at the one. In 51 minutes across two games, she had just three turnovers to seven assists. Oh, and she poured in 31 points, shooting 11-of-19 from the floor and 6-of-9 from outside.

“Ace, while she was here, she definitely gave me some of her IQ and some of her basketball knowledge,” Crutchfield told The Next. “On top of that, (Moore) recruited me as a combo guard, so, I did play some point guard in high school and AAU. I feel like I’ve been prepared.”

Cunane said of Crutchfield: “She just did amazing (vs. North Florida). She’s been working really hard. She’s been leading the team really well. I’m glad to see all of her hard work paying off.”

While the Wolfpack rolled out a bigger lineup, they never abandoned the three-ball, shooting 19-of-46 from beyond the arc for a 41.3% clip. And their size advantage helped them out-rebound North Florida and N.C. Central by a combined margin of 91-53.

Perez didn’t light it up in her first game for N.C. State, but was very much a super-sub in her second appearance, tallying 15 points, three rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes off the bench.

While Konig is gone, N.C. State is simply deeper than they were a year ago. In last year’s ACC title game, just six players played 10 minutes or more, and the other three players who entered the game had just one rebound and zero points between them.

Against NC Central, the Wolfpack got a solid performance out of redshirt freshman Elle Sutphin, who tallied nine points and three boards in 19 minutes. True freshman Genesis Bryant had seven points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in her first two collegiate appearances. Dontavia Waggoner and Rebecca Demeke have played well in spurts too.

To win their next game, the Wolfpack will need everyone playing at a high level. On Thursday, they’ll face No. 1 South Carolina in Colombia.

Written by Mitchell Northam

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