Wolfpack men’s basketball held on late against Virginia Tech on the road to earn its first win since Dec. 9, 2021 while simultaneously earning its first victory in conference play this season. The Hokies put the Pack to the test early and often, but another top-tier performance from redshirt sophomore guard Dereon Seabron led the way to the Wolfpack’s 68-63 win.
Seabron continued to strengthen his candidacy for ACC Player of the Year with yet another double-double, this one going for 21 points and 10 rebounds, including some huge buckets down the stretch. The sensational Pack play didn’t stop with Seabron either, with freshman Terquavion Smith and senior forward Jericole Hellems rounding out the Pack’s big three for the evening in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“I thought those guys were really good, all three of them made great plays,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “Those three guys have carried us the entire year, all three of those guys stepped up in critical moments of the game and made huge plays for us.”
The first half followed many of the trends that this Wolfpack (8-7, 1-3 ACC) team had become accustomed to over the course of its previous losing streak. The Pack competed well for the better part of the period, starting off strong with a 7-0 run to open up the scoring. After Virginia Tech (8-6, 0-3 ACC) responded with a run of its own, NC State was forced to reassess its plan of attack with all signs pointing to a reliance on Smith.
Smith, or “Baby T” as the Wolfpack faithful likes to call him, has shown massive signs of improvement in his young, energetic game, despite the Pack’s recent misfortunes, and continued to prove why he’s the future of the program in the first half. Smith scored 14 of the Pack’s 29 going into the break, including some massive buckets to keep his team on the front foot. From four-point plays to emphatic one-handed slams, Smith was providing the fuel for the Pack’s offensive fire.
Smith finished the evening with 17 points, on just under 50% shooting from the floor, along with seven rebounds and an assist. The freshman has been one of the most consistent performers for this Wolfpack squad through the season thus far, and Keatts and Smith’s teammates likely hope that the young stud can keep his production levels “through the roof.”
“I would say my confidence is at the same level all the time,” Smith said. “Nothing changes my confidence, it’s always going to be through the roof.”
That fire lit by Smith would quickly be extinguished in the first half’s final 5:11, however, with Virginia Tech showing complete dominance over the Pack in its 14-0 run to end the period. It was a true team effort from the Hokies in the first, with no player scoring more than seven points but boasting eight unique scorers in the team’s 33-point performance.
The first half made it clear that despite Smith’s best efforts to keep his team in the game, it would take more than dominant stretches of production from the freshman to win the Pack its first ACC game. Seabron and Hellems both contributed in minor ways to NC State’s 29 first-half points, but it was going to take more from the Pack’s go-to guys to get over the hump.
After trading blows early on in the second half, NC State found its footing in the form of a 13-0 run spearheaded by the scoring efforts of Seabron, Hellems and Smith who were the only Pack players to find the bottom of the net during the span. After flipping the script the Pack didn’t look back, holding the lead for all but 59 seconds during the remainder of the game.
Continuous production from Seabron proved to be the deciding factor in the Wolfpack victory, with the redshirt sophomore showing why he deserves his respect in the ACC Player of the Year conversation with his performance in the clutch. Seabron scored six of the Pack’s final eight points to seal the win.
Hellems’ involvement throughout the matchup was equally important for the Pack, with the senior going for 15 points, five rebounds and an assist. Hellems, much like Seabron and Smith, has solidified himself as a win condition for this roster; that is to say that when he struggles, the team will follow, but when he contributes as he did tonight, good things are bound to happen.
While a win is exactly what this Wolfpack roster needed to potentially turn its season around, there are still a lot of holes in the squad’s play. A glaring concern is the lack of bench production, with NC State’s rotation guys only contributing eight points on the night. Things are looking up in this area, however, with players such as freshman forward Ernest Ross potentially earning themselves some more minutes as the season progresses.
“I feel excited,” Ross said. “Every day I just keep working, following coach's instructions and just listening to and taking in all the things that I need to do to get on the court to help my team win.”
Ross may have only contributed four points and three rebounds in his 15 minutes on the floor, but those four points, in particular, were essential to the Pack’s first win in nearly a month. A monstrous dunk paired with a crucial putback bucket in the game’s closing moments were just what the red-and-white needed out of the freshman who has shown glimpses of his true talent so far.
Ladies and Gentlemen, ERNEST ROSS📺: ACC Network pic.twitter.com/FB5D7akGpn— NC State Men's Bball (@PackMensBball) January 5, 2022
The Pack has a solid opportunity to continue trending upwards in a matchup against the Clemson Tigers at home on Saturday, Jan. 8. Tip-off is set for noon with the Pack hungry to build on all the positives it showed tonight in a hard-fought win against the Hokies.