NC State picked up an important road win with its 79-63 victory over the Louisville Cardinals on Wednesday, Jan. 12. The win comes as the Pack’s second in the ACC this season, bringing the squad to a .500 win percentage for 2022.
Despite the Wolfpack (9-8, 2-4 ACC) victory being its ninth of the season, it was arguably the first time the team has managed to put together a full 40 minutes of controlled basketball this year. The win against Louisville (10-6, 4-2 ACC) also serves as retribution for the Pack, which fell to the Cardinals in heartbreaking fashion to start its conference play out on the wrong foot earlier in the season.
With the five-game losing streak being snapped earlier in the month, the Pack had broken out of its slump, but its play still warranted some questions in need of answering. One of those questions was how NC State would manage to turn its inside play on offense around, with the team struggling to attack the rim from the paint. This is an issue that plagued the Pack in its last outing against Clemson but was quickly answered in tonight’s matchup, with NC State outscoring Louisville 36-34 from inside.
Winning the battle of paint points was impressive enough, but the Pack really shined from beyond the arc in tonight’s matchup. NC State cashed in on 12 of 25 3-pointers with freshman guard Terquavion Smith being responsible for half of those. By now it’s no secret that Smith has an abundance of confidence, but the young gun continues to prove it’s well deserved. His 24-point performance in this outing was yet another chapter in the success story that his college career has been thus far.
An integral part of the Pack’s decisive victory on the road was the first-half performance from the team, which ended the period with a 35-27 lead that it wouldn’t look back from. Simply put, the Pack dominated the first half despite the lack of production from its go-to superstar, redshirt sophomore guard Dereon Seabron. What Seabron lacked in scoring early on, 2 points on 1 of 4 from the floor, he made up for in hustle plays, amassing five rebounds and four assists for his team in the first half.
“He's had a couple of games because Louisville, the first game was 11 points, this was 15. You know people are going to game plan against him,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “He's got to do other things. … Passing the ball is one because of his ability to drive and draw so many defenders you know, we're gonna have some open guys and he's got to make the right play. He wasn't making those right plays earlier in the year, now he is so, you know. You become a really good player when you impact the game, and it's just not scoring, and I think that's what he's doing for us.”
Picking up on the superstar’s slack, senior forward Jericole Hellems was the Pack’s hot hand in the first half and remained an essential component of NC State’s winning formula. Hellems’ 12 first-half points were a team high, with the senior being a major factor in a 16-0 run late in the period that established the Wolfpack lead that would remain in place until the final whistle. Hellems finished the night with 19 points on 70% shooting and six rebounds, another great performance for the senior who has solidified himself as a massive team player.
“I couldn't ask for a better player in our program,” Keatts said. “He was the guy that came out with a calmness as a senior, and kind of got us going early. When you look at his stats, they were off the charts tonight; 7 for 10, 5 for 7 from the 3-point line and six rebounds, 19 points. I think he played like a senior, and that's what we need him to do on this young team.”
Seabron was able to snap out of his first half scoring slump early on in the second and played a large role in helping the Pack maintain its lead until the final whistle. The potential first-team All-ACC candidate finished the evening with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field while also totaling seven rebounds and five assists.
Even though the Pack’s big three was on full display in tonight’s victory, NC State boasted multiple other key contributors, including the likes of redshirt senior guard Thomas Allen with his eight points and four assists, sophomore forward Ebenezer Dowuona with six important points and freshman forward Ernest Ross, whose four points and five rebounds in 18 minutes were exactly what Keatts needed from him.
“Give a lot of credit to Ernest Ross,” Keatts said. “I thought he came in and completely changed the game around with his energy and played hard.”
The win is a massive step for the Pack, which has now doubled its number of conference victories in preparation for a daunting matchup against the No. 8 team in the nation, the Duke Blue Devils. Tip-off for that game is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15 at Cameron Indoor Stadium and provides a fantastic opportunity for the Pack to show off just how far it’s come since the start of the year.