Senior forward Jericole Hellems scored a career-high 31 points in a 90-81 win for NC State men’s basketball over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on Saturday, Nov. 27.
With redshirt junior forward Manny Bates out for the regular season with a shoulder injury, the Wolfpack (5-1) needed Hellems to step up as a leader of this young team, and he did just that in this win over the Bulldogs (4-2).
“I've been in a little slump as far as fouling and letting my offense determine my game,” Hellems said. “It was good to get out there and make some shots and try to help my team as much as I can. I appreciate them for finding me and getting me going.”
Hellems primarily did his damage from beyond the arc, scoring 18 on 3-pointers alone. The Pack as a whole did not follow suit, as the rest of the team shot 5 for 18 from 3-point range, but a few players picked up the slack, especially in the paint.
Sophomore forward Ebenezer Dowuona combined with Hellems for 14 of State’s first 16 points, adding six blocks during the game as well. Junior guard Casey Morsell notched 12 second-half points to help the Wolfpack stay in front. In a foul-heavy game down the stretch, NC State’s free-shooting also kept it ahead for the duration of the second half.
“I didn't like the way we shot the ball from the free-throw line against Texas Southern because we're a really good free-throw shooting team,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “I thought we stepped up tonight and answered that.”
NC State needed all hands on deck to maintain its lead, as forward Kenneth Lofton, Jr. (no relation to six-time MLB All-Star Kenny Lofton) bullied the Pack in the paint to the tune of 36 points and 18 rebounds.
“Give credit to him,” Keatts said. “He’s tough, one of the best players in the country. One of the best posts in the country.”
Despite Lofton Jr.’s efforts, the Bulldogs had trouble taking care of the ball and the Wolfpack made them pay for it. NC State scored 20 points off 14 Louisiana Tech turnovers compared to four off six for the Bulldogs. In what finished as a nine-point game, the Pack’s ability to capitalize on its opponents’ mistakes made a difference.
Paired with Hellems’ herculean performance, the Pack’s ability to convert Bulldog turnovers into Wolfpack points was enough for it to come away with the win. Next up for NC State is a home game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. The matchup with the Cornhuskers is set to tip off Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 7:15 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.