While the N.C. State Wolfpack handled the basketball with enough care to commit a season-low four turnovers Thursday night, the shots mostly fell outside the rims.
Except, that is, for Omer Yurtseven’s shots.
The 7-foot sophomore center had the best game of his college career, nailing 12 of 18 shots (including five 3-pointers) to score 29 points in N.C. State’s 78-77 upset win over No. 19 Clemson at PNC Arena.
On the way to reaching a career-high point total, Yurtseven was one of two N.C. State players to score in double figures. The other, graduate guard Allerik Freeman, scored 14 points while making just 4 of 16 shots.
Freeman’s performance looked more like his team’s. N.C. State shot just 41.8 percent, making 28 of 67 shots. That means everyone in an N.C. State uniform not named Omer Yurtseven combined to hit 16 of 49 shots (32.6 percent).
Considering the Wolfpack shot 34.8 percent the last time it played Clemson – a 78-62 road loss on Dec. 30, the importance of Yurtseven’s performance against the Tigers Thursday cannot be overstated.
“I thought Omer Yurtseven was unbelievable,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “He scored the ball inside and out.”
The inside part is expected from a 7-foot, 245-pound center. It’s the outside part that’s an added dimension to Yurtseven’s game this season. By making five of six 3-pointers against Clemson, he’s now made 11 of 15 from behind the arc this season.
Keatts has no problem with his big man taking shots out there every now and again. When they are falling, he’s fine with him shooting all night.
In N.C. State’s first game against Clemson, Yurtseven had 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. He only attempted one 3-pointer, which he missed.
In practice this week, the coaching staff worked with Yurtseven to take advantage of pick-and-roll situations to allow him to get open jumpers.
“Give Clemson credit,” Keatts said. “They did a tremendous job at their place icing pick and rolls, keeping us on the side. We worked with Omer about picking and popping, kind of spacing away. He made shots.”
Because he did make those shots, N.C. State (12-5, 2-2 ACC) beat a ranked team for the second straight game. The Wolfpack also beat No. 2 Duke (14-2, 2-2) last Saturday. Yurtseven’s strong night means the Wolfpack built on that 96-85 win over the Blue Devils rather than reverting to the play that saw it lose its first two ACC games.
“To be honest, everybody expected us to relax and just chill after we won a game against Duke, the No. 2 team and the No. 1 in the RPI,” Yurtseven said. “Coming off of that, everybody was kind of relaxed. But when we started practicing, we kept our hustle. We just worked really hard on Clemson.”
N.C. State’s shooting, other than Yurtseven’s, wouldn’t have been good enough to beat a top 25 team on most nights. But because the Wolfpack only committed four turnovers, it was able to survive a night when guards Freeman (4-of-16), freshman Braxton Beverly (2-of-9) and freshman Lavar Batts (1-of-5) weren’t hitting their shots.
“It just shows the potential we have,” Yurtseven said.
N.C. State had 17 assists on 34 made field goals against Duke. The Wolfpack followed that up with 15 assists on 28 field goals against Clemson.
Freeman and Beverly, while struggling to hit their own shots, had five assists each.
“We’ve got something going right now,” Freeman said. “We’ve just got to keep it going. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. Keep driving. Keep kicking. When O has games like that it takes the pressure off the guards.”
To keep it going, N.C. State must find a way to play well on the road. It opened ACC play with the loss at Clemson followed by an 88-58 defeat at Notre Dame (13-4, 3-1).
Up next is a trip to No. 3 Virginia (15-1, 4-0) on Sunday night.