The NC State men’s basketball team cruised to an 80-62 win in Winston-Salem behind an all-around team effort on Saturday, Feb. 20.
All season long, the Wolfpack (10-9, 6-8 ACC) has gone as far as its guard play does with that theme recurring this afternoon with impressive efforts from freshman Cam Hayes, redshirt freshman Dereon Seabron and senior Braxton Beverly, all turning in strong outings. Propelled by the fact that five players finished in double figures, NC State won its third straight ACC road game in a single season for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “I thought it was the best basketball, best team game that we’ve played. [We had] five guys in double figures...Give Dereon Seabron credit. I thought he played well. I thought he was energetic. He did a great job. Everybody that we put in the game affected the game in a positive way. I thought we took another big step towards maturing...I’m excited we were able to get 28 points off turnovers. A lot of good things. A lot of good things that we can build on.”
Seabron had easily his best performance as a member of the Wolfpack, finishing with a career-high and team-leading 14 points, scoring 10 points and adding six rebounds before the end of the first half. The redshirt freshman was an active force all day, finishing with career highs in rebounds with nine and steals with four while tying his career high in assists, with three.
“One thing I did to grow was make sure I was in the gym, keep working on my game, keep getting better and getting more reps up,” Seabron said. “And yeah I think it was a big confidence thing like me being out there, getting more playing time, I just got in the flow of the game more, and I just got comfortable.”
Joining Seabron as an active force was Hayes, who continued his stellar play after erupting against Pitt. Hayes finished with 11 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals while shooting 60% from deep.
“When he’s making shots he becomes a really good point guard for us,” Keatts said. “Because now he can drive the lane and he can make plays. He’s able to step behind the 3-point line and make shots. He’s got great size as a point guard. He’s what you want in a point guard in the ACC. I think his confidence is starting to grow in those areas.”
Not to be outdone, Beverly scored or assisted on three 3-point shots late in the first half in just over a minute, bringing the Pack lead up to 13. The marksman finished with 10 points and three assists, capitalizing his importance to the program this season.
“I can’t say enough about that kid,” Keatts said. “He’s been a great mentor for those guys. Coming off the bench as a senior, you would think he would be pouting. He understands the situation that we’re in. He’s doing everything that he can to help our team win, whether it’s in the locker room or whether it is on the court. Honestly, he’s come in the last couple games and made a big difference. He’s made some timely shots, some big shots...At the end of the day, the kid does what he needs to do to help his team win.”
Junior forward Jericole Hellems continued to play into his hot hand, scoring 14 points to lead the team alongside Seabron, shooting 5 of 11 from the floor. Meanwhile, redshirt senior forward D.J. Funderburk added 11 points and seven rebounds despite a mediocre shooting day while freshman guard Shakeel Moore put up eight points and three steals at an 80% clip.
Lost in all the scoring excitement was the strong play of redshirt sophomore center Manny Bates, who finished the game with nine points and three blocks. Bates’s stellar rim protection set the tone for a great defensive showing for the Wolfpack, with the team ending the game with 11 steals, forcing 19 Wake Forest turnovers and holding its opponent to its lowest point total since holding Campbell to just 50 in December.
“It was big,” Keatts said. “It’s frustrating to me as a coach when we don’t turn people over. That’s because that’s what my system is predicated on. It’s been tough the last few games back because we were turning the ball over. There’s nothing like thinking you are good at something and somebody else is beating you at your own game. We got better. Our team is much better when we are creating off our defense. I thought we were great tonight with those guys.”
The Pack started the afternoon shooting the lights out while simultaneously playing stout defense, something that continued for the entire game. In the first half, the Pack shot 51.5% from the field, 60% from deep and scored 21 points off 11 Wake Forest turnovers. The team finished the afternoon shooting 50% overall and an impressive 42.1% from beyond the arc.
NC State used that first-half momentum to cruise through the second period, which allowed the Pack to go on and win its second in a row for the first time since late December.
“It feels good to win a game, always,” Hellems said. “We love the game of basketball, so at the end of the day, if you get a win it always feels good, especially when we’re playing good basketball. So hopefully we can continue to work hard and prepare.”
Next up, the Wolfpack will travel to Charlottesville, Virginia for a rematch with the No. 7 Cavaliers, after previously falling to them 64-57 on Feb. 3 inside PNC Arena.