No. 23 Louisville tests new ranking vs. No. 21 N.C. State

Louisville is on the rise as it takes on a ranked Atlantic Coast Conference team at home for the first time this season Thursday night.

No. 21 North Carolina State visits for the matchup with the No. 23 Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

"As far as our team, we feel we've taken a few steps forward the past couple of weeks," first-year Louisville coach Chris Mack said. "We know we're only as good as our next game. I don't think success is ever final."

Louisville (13-5, 4-1 ACC) has won three games in a row, moving into the national rankings for the first time this season. The Cardinals join North Carolina with the longest active winning streak among ACC teams.

"We have a very hungry group. We continue to progress on both sides of the floor," Mack said. "If we're not the hungrier team on any given night, we're not going to win that game. I hope our team understands that there are no nights off in this league."

N.C. State (15-3, 3-2) recovered from an upset loss at Wake Forest to win Saturday at Notre Dame.

"I'm excited about how my team bounced back," N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. "I thought we did a great job defending the 3-point line, so it was a great game for us."

The Wolfpack received a season-high 23 points from transfer guard CJ Bryce, with Keatts calling that his best game of the season. It was the first time Bryce, who began his career at UNC-Wilmington, led N.C. State in scoring this season, joining five other players with a team-high points outing.

North Carolina State needed that from a backcourt that has been impacted by the absence of point guard Markell Johnson. Johnson has missed the past two games since taking a hard fall on his backside in the Jan. 12 home victory against Pittsburgh.

"He's a guy who could play on Thursday or could play three or four weeks from now," Keatts said.

"He's not going to play until mentality and physically he feels like he's ready to play. There won't be any pressure on our end. We'll prepare to go into every game for the next few games without him. We'd love to have him back in our lineup."

Mack said the Cardinals have made considerable strides on the defensive end the past couple of weeks. Still, the offensive emergence from sophomore forward Jordan Nwora has been eye-catching.

Nwora averaged 28.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and shot 22 of 32 from the field, including 8 of 16 from behind the 3-point arc, in two games last week. Nwora averages a team-high 18.5 points and leads the ACC in per game scoring improvement from a season ago (plus-12.8).

N.C. State likes to disrupt opponents with a pressing defense, so that's something that has the Cardinals' attention.

"We look forward to a huge challenge," Mack said. "We know we're going to have to take care of the ball on the press."

This wraps up a three-game road stretch for North Carolina State, which has won six of its past nine ACC road games, dating to last season.

The Wolfpack is 6-5 against ranked opponents in two seasons under Keatts.

--Field Level Media

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