It wasn’t the road Kevin Keatts and N.C. State wanted to go down again this season. Not an opening loss in ACC play.
The 18th-ranked Wolfpack didn’t allow it Thursday, but had to work hard to avoid it. Just when it appeared the Miami Hurricanes might be pulling away in the second half, the Pack responded with a strong push in the final 10 minutes to take an 87-82 victory at Watsco Center.
The Pack opened Keatts’ first season with ACC road losses at Clemson and Notre Dame, then won 11 of its last 16 ACC games. But the Wolfpack is 13-1 overall, its best start since N.C. State’s 1973-74 national champions, has an ACC road win and next has North Carolina coming into PNC Arena on Tuesday.
“This was definitely a team win and showed the strength of this team,” said Pack guard Devon Daniels, who had 19 points and eight rebounds. “It shows that no matter the predicament, no matter the time on the clock, we have a chance to win. That if we play as a team we can win.”
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Trailing 74-64 with less than 10 minutes to play in regulation, the Pack used 3-pointers from Braxton Beverly and Markell Johnson (20 points), and a three-point play by Torin Dorn to slash the Miami lead to one.
A driving basket by Daniels, the ball rolling around the rim, and baseline jumper by DJ Funderburk then capped a 13-0 run and gave the Pack had a 77-74 lead.
Johnson continued to attack, twice scoring on drives as the Pack pushed the lead to 81-76. The Wolfpack’s defensive pressure also wore on the Canes (8-5, 0-1), who learned before the game that big man Dewan Hernandez had been denied his appeal by the NCAA and ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season.
“Give our guys credit in the second half,” Keatts said. “I thought we did a tremendous job. I think there was a severn-minute stretch where we held them scoreless. We guarded the 3-point better.
Johnson did not score in the Pack’s last game, a 97-64 romp past Loyola (Md.) Against the Canes, he hit six of eight from the field, including four 3-pointers and made four free throws in the final 29 seconds.
N.C. State finished with a 51-29 rebounding edge as Wyatt Walker had 11 boards -- including eight offensive-rebounds -- to go with his nine points.
The Wolfpack had the lead snatched from it in the final six minutes of the first half as the Canes ended with a 17-2 spurt for a 45-37 lead.
“I wasn’t happy at halftime and not because we weren’t scoring the ball,” Keatts said. “I thought Miami beat us to every loose ball. They were the aggressors. They got every 50-50 ball. And we didn’t do a great job guarding the 3-point line.”
The Pack responded with a stronger start to begin the second half, but the Canes continued to hurt the Wolfpack with drives to the basket for scores or penetrating drives to free up open shooters on the perimeter -- until the final 10 minutes.
Chris Lykes, a sophomore guard who’s 5-7 but ultra quick, was in constant motion, breaking down the Pack off the dribble or hitting jumpers in finishing with 28 points. Zach Johnson, 6-2 junior guard, had his shooting touch and scored 21.
But the Pack locked in defensively down the stretch as Miami missed 11 of its last 14 shots from the field.
The Pack played without sophomore guard Blake Harris, who suffered a hip-pointer in practice this week.
The Pack seemingly had the game where it wanted it in the first 15 minutes, running its offense efficiently enough, hitting the boards, limiting mistakes.
When the Canes’ Sam Waardenburg was called for a flagrant-1 foul, after locking arms with Funderburk under the Wolfpack basket, N.C. State made the most of it. Funderburk followed up a free throw by draining a 3-pointer and the Pack led 35-28 with 5:44 left in the half.
But an offensive foul call against the Pack’s C.J. Bryce soon turned the momentum. Bryce bumped Lykes in the backcourt, the whistle blew, and the Canes soon had the jump on the Pack, scoring the next 11 points.
The Hurricanes learned just hours before the game that the NCAA had turned down Hernandez’ appeal and ruled him ineligible. Hernandez had sat out the first 12 games of the season, awaiting the NCAA decision after being named during in the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball and the involvement of shoe companies.