Apart from a few great individual performances, the NC State men’s basketball team struggled in its shocking 84-70 loss to Wright State on Tuesday, Dec. 21 inside PNC Arena.
The Raiders (4-7) outscored the Wolfpack (7-5) 46-34 in the paint and shot 52.5% from the field, compared to NC State’s 38.2%, to earn the upset win. To add insult to injury, Wright State shot a better percentage from 3, 38.9%, than NC State did from the floor.
“The obvious is we did not play very well tonight,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “I don’t think we played well on either end, defensively or offensively. For whatever reason, we’ve got five guys who have been leading us and everybody didn’t play well tonight. When that happens, I’ve got to figure out as a coach how to get a win. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t put it together.”
Freshman guard Terquavion Smith and senior forward Jericole Hellems were the only two members of the Wolfpack to put in decent scoring performances, combining for 41 points. Smith was electric all night, scoring a career-high 27.
“I bring a lot of energy just because of how I play,” Smith said. “I try to spread my energy to teammates and get us going whenever we need it.”
While Smith was a consistent source of offense in the loss, Hellems heated up late in the first to help give the Wolfpack a narrow halftime lead, but couldn’t get it going the rest of the night. Eight of Hellems’ 14 points came in the final 5:16 of the first half, and the forward hit just one shot after the break.
The rest of the Wolfpack combined for 29 points on 11 for 40 shooting. The Pack also managed just nine assists on 29 buckets, struggling to move the ball effectively to create good shooting opportunities.
“Honestly, we just didn’t play well as a team,” Smith said. “We’ve got to come together more as a team than anything else.”
The shooting missteps certainly hurt the Wolfpack, but its inability to defend down low was the real killer. Over half of Wright State’s points came in the paint and 6-foot-9 forward Grant Basile led the Raiders with 23 points as he consistent bullied the Pack’s bigs down low.
“We did a poor job of defending the paint,” Keatts said. “They threw it inside against us. Unfortunately we don’t have [redshirt junior forward] Manny Bates, and he’s not coming back. Our guards have got to do a great job of pressuring the basketball. Our bigs have to do a good job of defending the post.”
Right away, Smith stood out as the Pack’s lone source of offense on the night, scoring the team’s first eight points and 13 of the team’s first 19. By the 7:42 mark of the first half, Smith had those 13 points on 6 for 10 shooting, while the rest of the Pack shot a combined 3 for 15 from the field.
Despite Smith’s exceptional play, the Wolfpack trailed for most of the first half, only regaining the lead late after Hellems started to heat up.
Hellems and Smith combined for 27 of the Wolfpack’s 38 first-half points as it went into the break up by one. Only three other members of the Pack scored in the half, with junior guard Casey Morsell leading that trio with six, four of which came from the line.
The second half was more of the same: Smith scoring consistently with some minor contributions here and there from others. Outside of Smith’s 12 second-half points, redshirt sophomore guard Dereon Seabron scored seven and sophomore guard Cam Hayes added five, with freshman forward Ernest Ross, Hellems and sophomore forward Ebenezer Dowuona combining for eight.
“But when you look at Seabron, who has been great for us, he didn’t have it tonight,” Keatts said. “We’ve got to figure out when he’s not playing well. He’s not going to have a double-double every night, how to get better and how someone else can step up. But when you look at two of your starters, Cam Hayes was 2 for 12 and Seabron was 4 for 12. That’s 6 for 24 on a team where we normally get five guys who score the bulk of the points.”
Both Smith and Hellems got into foul trouble in the second half, with Hellems picking up his third with 11:46 remaining, just a few minutes after Smith picked up his.
The Pack tried to mount a comeback late with some decently effective full-court press, even forcing a 10 second violation, but it was far too little, too late.
Now the Wolfpack faces the rest of its ACC slate after playing its opener a few weeks ago, beginning with a road game at Miami on Wednesday, Dec. 29. That game is set for 9 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU.