CHARLOTTE — The NC State men’s basketball team fell in frustrating fashion, 83-74, to the Richmond Spiders on Friday, Dec. 17 in the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Wolfpack (7-4) hit just 21 of its 34 free-throw attempts against the Spiders (7-4), a miserable 61.8% clip from the free-throw line in its fourth mistake-ridden loss of the year. Redshirt sophomore guard Dereon Seabron was the biggest perpetrator of the Pack’s charity-stripe woes, going just 4 for 10 from the line.
“The storyline of the game is, we are normally a good free-throw shooting team,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “And for us to leave 13 on the rim, it’s just not characteristic of us. And obviously give those guys credit, they won the game, but certainly, we didn’t try to miss them and you look at Dereon Seabron, he’s been tremendous in our short season, great job, another double-double, but just couldn’t find a rhythm at the free-throw line. So we gotta learn from it, we gotta move on, we gotta continue to get better.”
Though he shot poorly from the line, Seabron put up another overall phenomenal performance for the Pack, registering his seventh double-double of the season, going for 21 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. Seabron came alive late in the game getting six points in about a three-minute span, and he put the exclamation point on this run with a slam to bring the Pack within two points with 3:05 left in regulation.
“[Seabron]’s tremendous,” said Richmond head coach Chris Mooney. “He’s such an explosive and great athlete and also a great dribbler. He handles the ball so well in the halfcourt, in the full court, in tight spaces. And what we’re really trying to do is go under the ball screens — and that’s gotta be one of the tallest guys that’s having ball screens set for him — and really try to make it as crowded as possible. He can still find crevices, and if you’re on your heels, he’s able to jump and maneuver his body in difficult ways. He’s great. I’m sure he’s an NBA player. … In transition, he’s pretty much an automatic basket.”
But Seabron’s efforts were too little, too late as the Pack’s free-throw struggles came back to bite them, alongside Richmond’s 46-30 advantage in points in the paint.
In the beginning of the first half, it looked like NC State might have a chance to run away with a dominant offensive performance. The Pack finished the first at 5 of 7 from deep, with all five coming in the first seven minutes of the period, getting up to a 23-15 lead at one point. Sophomore guard Cam Hayes, in particular, finished the first half by going 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, leading the Pack’s scoring at the half with nine points.
However, entering the game, Richmond had several mismatches over the Pack that caught up to it by the end of the first. First of all, NC State’s average years of experience is 1.3 years compared to Richmond’s 3.1. Then, Richmond returned 85.5% of its minute-earners from last season compared to 59.4% from NC State. Richmond’s average roster age is 24.3 years old.
If that wasn’t daunting enough, the Spiders severely outclass the Pack in terms of frontcourt experience. Forward Grant Golden got professional looks last season and it definitely showed in the first as he and Nathan Cayo picked apart the Wolfpack on the interior. By the end of the first, Golden and Cayo had 23 of Richmond’s 39 points with no other Spider accounting for more than four.
“I thought [Cayo] played great,” Mooney said. “He had a couple post moves in the first half that were almost uncontested. He’s strong and experienced and physical but he’s also a great dribbler, and to me, that’s the most important quality in scoring in the post. He can just handle the ball, keep his dribble alive, so as you’re trying to time it when he’s gonna go up, he can keep his dribble for an extra two or three dribbles and can get himself close to the basket.”
According to Keatts after the game, sophomore forward Ebenezer Dowuona rolled his ankle yesterday and the coach wasn’t sure if the five-man would be able to play as late as last night. Dowuona played through the injury, doing all that he could to prevent frontcourt scores, including notching his gamely tradition of some insane blocks, but it wasn’t enough for the Pack to get the lead in the first. Cayo was phenomenal on backdoor cuts and Golden moved with some serious agility — gliding at one point for an easy and-one score.
“Give Richmond credit,” Keatts said. “I thought in the first half we gave up a lot of easy baskets. I thought we made some adjustments in the second half. We did a better job and didn’t give up so many backdoor cuts. It’s tough when you play our style and they play their style, it’s a difference of styles and one’s gonna win out. I thought in the first half they completely outplayed us in that area, meaning backdoor cuts and everything else.”
Richmond kept it going with fantastic finesse moves in the paint in the second half, dominating inside. Golden had another great move on the low block to get his second and-one score of the game and, for a while, NC State looked purely outclassed as it tried to claw back into the contest piece by piece.
However, as it always seems to be with this iteration of the Pack, NC State rode a personal 7-0 scoring run by freshman guard Terquavion Smith in order to get back into things. The trio of Smith, Hayes and Seabron is a potent one on the offensive end, finishing with 51 combined points in the last game against Purdue and ending tonight with 55.
In what seems like a consistent theme with this team, the Pack kept failing to get over the hump, coming within one and three points on two separate occasions but failing to take advantage. Keeping consistent with the number of backdoor cuts Richmond got to go, NC State also allowed Tyler Burton and Jacob Gilyard to make an impact late in the game. Gilyard finished the contest with 13 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and two steals while Burton had 16 points and eight boards.
The final nail in the coffin came when NC State was down by four with 36 seconds remaining in the game. With 16 seconds left on the shot clock, Hayes fouled Burton, a 78.6% free-throw shooter entering tonight, essentially ending the game for the Pack.
“We keep giving games away that we should be winning,” Hayes said. “Just having a lot of mental lapses right now. Not locking in coming out of the huddles and stuff. We just have to do the little things that [are gonna come back to haunt] us when ACC play comes because in ACC play it’s no games, it’s the real thing, so a couple bad possessions, we’re gonna lose the game if we’re not locked in.”
Next up, NC State takes on Wright State at PNC Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 21, its first game there in what will be over two weeks. The Pack will look to right the ship after dropping three of its last four in a much-needed home contest. That game tips at 7 p.m.
“We have to get smarter,” Keatts said. “We gotta make the right plays. I’m gonna need more, and I know this is going to sound crazy, I need more leadership from Cam Hayes and Seabron. And I’m asking for leadership from guys who are really sophomores, who really played half of a freshman year. … And so we have to grow up overnight. We have to keep getting better. … Our youth can’t hurt us all the time.”