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Sophomore forward Jericole Hellems guards the Pittsburgh Panthers offense on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 in PNC Arena. Hellems scored 16 points and had 2 rebounds against the Panthers. NC State beat Pittsburgh 77-73.

NC State men’s basketball plowed through the UMass Lowell River Hawks 90-59 on Thursday, Dec. 3, as part of the Bubbleville event hosted by Mohegan Sun. The game was smooth sailing all the way for the Pack, marking its third consecutive win by over 30 points leading up to its next game against UConn.

The Wolfpack (3-0) started the game firing on all cylinders, building up to a 43-19 lead at halftime. Redshirt senior guard Devon Daniels led all scorers with 18 points, with junior forward Jericole Hellems and freshman guard Cam Hayes right behind with 17 apiece. Fourteen NC State players found the floor and 11 found the basket at least once.

“Anytime we come on the court, we want to make our presence felt early,” Daniels said. “One thing that we press the issue for before the game is starting out defensively, with a lot of pressure, not letting them get set. So we watched a lot of film on them. We knew what they were going to bring. We did a nice job of taking them out of their routine, taking them out of their sets. When we start the game bringing that much pressure, it breaks down the other team’s confidence.”

Turnovers were another main story of the first half, as NC State scored 16 points off 13 River Hawk (1-3) turnovers. UMass Lowell was not able to do nearly as much damage in that aspect of the game, failing to score a single point off NC State’s four first-half turnovers. However, Hellems was not content for the team to rest on its laurels.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that [this was the team’s best defensive performance so far],” Hellems said. “I think we’ve still got some things to work on and to keep improving, but it was a great win for us.”

In addition to a turnover-happy offense, UMass Lowell struggled to get shots to fall as it went 33% from the field in the first half. The Wolfpack had no such problems as it sported a 48.4 field-goal percentage going into the locker room, including seven 3-pointers out of 15 attempts.

One of the Wolfpack’s main contributors from beyond the arc was Hayes, who went 3-6 from downtown and finished with 17 points and six assists. Head coach Kevin Keatts praised Hayes for his maturity on the court.

“The thing about Cam is that he’s a sponge, and he’s picking up stuff,” Keatts said. “I’ve been really, really tough on him, more than any freshman that I have, because he has to grow up earlier and grow up quicker, and I think he’s embracing that roll. He’s doing a good job. He’s taking care of the basketball, he’s scoring and he’s starting to understand. A lot of times, when you come in as a young guy, you don’t understand how hard you have to play, and he’s starting to compete at a high level. I’m proud of him. I love the way he played. I thought he had a great floor game tonight, and I just want to see him continue to get better.”

 

The second half was much more tightly contested than the first, as the River Hawks started knocking down shots to the tune of a 44.8% from the floor for the latter half of the game, compared to that 33.3% in the first half. UMass Lowell tightened up its ball security as well, and NC State was only able to force six turnovers after halftime.

But the Pack did not let up either. In addition to maintaining its substantial lead, the Pack improved its shooting, increasing its field-goal percentage by 7.5% and outrebounding the River Hawks 21-17.

 

In the end, NC State walked away with momentum-building victory, remaining undefeated in the young season. Even with the win, Keatts saw a few areas to improve upon leading up to the Wolfpack’s next game against UConn.

“UConn is a really good basketball program,” Keatts said. “[UConn head coach Dan Hurley] has done a good job recruiting; they’ve got a really good team. If I had to take a couple of things that I want to get better at, I think there’s too many 50/50 balls that we can get. I want us to get those types of basketballs. I want us to get a little bit better at rebounding the ball, even though we outrebounded UMass Lowell today. We’re doing a really good job on the offensive glass … but I would love to see us get a little more defensive rebounds so we can get out and run.”

The Wolfpack will finish its stay in Bubbleville on Saturday, Dec. 5, when it takes on the UConn Huskies. This game will be aired at noon on ESPNU.