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Senior forward Jericole Hellems celebrates after he scores in the game against Nebraska in PNC Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Hellems scored 15 points and had seven rebounds. NC State won in quadruple overtime 104-100.

Wolfpack men’s basketball’s recent masterclass at the school of hard knocks continued with a 91-83 loss to the Miami Hurricanes on Wednesday, Dec. 29. The Pack’s second ACC game of the season slipped away from it about as easily as the first, potentially signifying a tough road ahead for this young roster.

NC State (7-6, 0-2 ACC) came into the matchup suffering from a three-game losing streak that saw the Pack drop multiple games in crunch time. Tonight’s head-to-head with Miami (10-3, 2-0 ACC) was no different, with NC State falling victim to a 16-2 Hurricanes run in the most important period in the game.

“Unfortunately, it was a game of runs; we had our runs, and then they had their runs,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “And I think at the end some veteran guys took over and we showed a little bit of youth.”

The Pack suffered from a poor shooting performance in the first half but managed to come out of the period with a one-point lead heading into the break. In typical Wolfpack “grit and grind” fashion, it was the hustle plays, especially on the boards, that enabled the red-and-white to one-up a Miami unit that looked poised to run away with the game after a couple of impressive runs. 

Despite shooting 39.5% from the field and an atrocious 21.4% from 3 before halftime, the Pack managed to put 41 points on the scoreboard. Many of those can be attributed to the Pack’s dominance on the offensive glass, reeling in 11 offensive rebounds in the first half alone. That number was clear of Miami’s two offensive rebounds and NC State’s 26 total rebounds nearly doubled that of the Hurricanes (13). 

While the first half shooting splits indicate a rough start to the game from the floor, Miami worked hard to keep the Pack struggling. The Hurricanes’ ability to defend the perimeter and deny the Wolfpack big men the ball down low made it especially difficult for NC State to find quality looks earlier in the shot clock. Regardless, senior forward Jericole Hellems paved the way offensively, leading the team with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting at the break.

The largest struggle for the Pack in the first half was slowing down a streaking Miami offense that was stacking on the points when it found itself hot. Kameron McGusty looked especially dominant, scoring 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, tacking on a couple of 3-pointers and shooting 100% from the charity stripe. Rather than combating a strong first half from the Hurricanes with a switch in defensive scheme, the Pack seemed content in turning the half into a slugfest of responses to Miami buckets.

Unfortunately for the Pack, this strategy would not bode well for the squad in the game’s most essential moments. Eventually, the counter punches stopped falling for the red-and-white as the game fell right into the hands of Miami’s Isaiah Wong, who took over quickly. Wong scored 15 of his 19 total points in the second half, including a monster dunk with just over 10 minutes remaining that lit a fire for his teammates. The Hurricanes grabbed their first lead of the second half with 4:39 left to play and never looked back, pouring it onto a Wolfpack squad that had a lid on its basket for the majority of the game’s final eight minutes.

“I just feel like we got to play harder, like when the game gets more, like close, we got to play harder,” said freshman guard Terquavion Smith. “Everything counts, every possession counts in college basketball.”

It’s yet another difficult loss for this Wolfpack unit to cope with moving forward, but it wasn’t without its bright spots. One notable positive coming out of tonight’s matchup was the play from Hellems, who finished the game as the Pack’s leading scorer with 24 points and notched himself in the history books as the 55th player to ever reach 1,000 career points for the red-and-white.

The Pack also won the battle on the boards, out-rebounding Miami 41-32. Unfortunately, it’s simply hard to capitalize on out-hustling opponents when they’re shooting 55.4% from the floor and an extremely impressive 52.6% from beyond the arc. With that being acknowledged, there is a path ahead that could see the Pack surprising a lot of the nay-sayers as the season progresses.

“This is the youngest team that I've probably coached, and we just got to continue to grow, continue to get better,” Keatts said. “We don't feel sorry for ourselves and we're going to continue to get better. We will continue to grow and you know, obviously, we got to figure out how to get some positive results.”

Assistant Sports Editor