The NC State men’s basketball team extended its win streak to five on Saturday afternoon with a 74-58 win over Little Rock at PNC Arena.
“I thought we did some really good things today,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “I thought we came out with great energy to start the game and in the second half.”
Redshirt senior guard C.J. Bryce and sophomore forward Jericole Hellems led the way for the Wolfpack (5-1), as the pair both had stellar first halves and decent second halves. The Trojans (3-3) had moments of excellence in the game, but for the most part, it was all Wolfpack.
Bryce led the team with 18 points, but he also impressed on the boards, grabbing a joint team-high six rebounds. The veteran guard also added two assists and two steals to round out his impressive day.
Hellems, who also grabbed six rebounds, grabbed seven points in the first half, but he did not score in the second. What he lacked in second-half scoring, he made up for with creativity and hustle plays, as he grabbed six assists, a career-high six rebounds and four steals, also a career high.
“I think it’s always been my game,” Hellems said about getting a career high in assists. “I’ve just been worried about the wrong things the past few games, worrying about scoring too much. Coach just told me to let my game come to me, and that's what I’ve been doing, in all aspects of my game.”
The Wolfpack adopted an aggressive defensive style from the first minutes of the game, full-court pressing and pushing for turnovers throughout the game. The Wolfpack scored 17 points off turnovers, forcing the Trojans into 18 turnovers total.
“Our defense was really good,” Keatts said. “We concentrated on what we wanted to do with the little guard. He was coming in averaging 20 points a game, and obviously he was a focal point of our defense, and I thought our guys did a really good job with that.”
While the Pack jumped out to an early lead, it limped into the half, with the Trojans ending the first half on a 6-0 run. The second half started better, but things nearly turned sour early on, as senior guard Markell Johnson was forced to sit with four fouls just over three minutes into the half.
Johnson had a solid game all around, with the guard picking up 12 points and three assists. Despite Johnson’s obvious impact on the way the team plays, the Pack performed solidly during his eight-minute stint on the bench, being outscored just 15-12.
“If you’re saying because Markell Johnson was out of the game, we'd become a worse defensive team, I’m not listening to you ever again,” Keatts said.
While other players are able to fill in for Johnson when he is on the bench, it can’t be understated how important he is to this team.
“I think as a team, we can play without [Johnson],” Hellems said. “We do have players that can fill roles and play while he’s out, but he did a great job and is a great player, of course. We need him on the floor.”
With just a few seconds left on the clock, the game seemed ready to end without incident, but as redshirt junior guard Devon Daniels was dribbling the clock out on the sideline, he and the Trojans’ Isaiah Palermo began to exchange a few words. After a brief altercation that consisted of the two sizing each other up, the referees decided to call the game early, a decision which was later reversed, and the final 1.3 seconds of the game were played out. Both Daniels and Palermo were ejected before the game was resumed.
“I think they were going back and forth,” Keatts said. “The game was over. I got a little upset, because when you’re winning the game and the game was over, just walk away. I don't know who said what to who, but the referees called it a game, and then they bought it back.”
The Wolfpack will be back in action on Thursday as it heads to New York to play Memphis at the Barclays Center. The game is set to tip off at 4 p.m.