Kevin Keatts’ second game at N.C. State wasn’t quite like the first.
The Wolfpack gave Keatts his second coaching win on Sunday, turning back Charleston Southern 78-56 at PNC Arena, but it didn’t come with the complete ease of the season-opener.
Unlike the 102-67 romp over VMI on Friday, the Pack was ragged offensively for most of the first half. But when the Pack was good, in the final three minutes of the half, it was very good.
The Pack ended the half with a 17-0 surge fueled by 3-pointers – three by Sam Hunt and another at the first-half buzzer by Markell Johnson – for a 42-21 lead.
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“It was great see how we fought back and how we faced adversity,” Hunt said. “We came out sluggish and that’s on us. ... Coach Keatts said we didn’t have the intensity. The one thing we rely on is our defense and our effort and our intensity. We have to pick it up. It’s on us.”
Keatts, in his first year as coach, will demand defensive intensity.. But it was tougher Sunday establishing good offensive rhythm.
Allerik Freeman, who scored 11 of the Pack’s first 20 points, finished with a team-high 18. Torin Dorn had 14 points and Johnson 12.
Charleston Southern was blown out 110-62 by Davidson its season-opener Friday, hardly the start the Buccaneers wanted. If the Pack was expecting a similar game, and result, it didn’t get it.
“I thought they came out with a tremendous game plan, to slow it down,” Keatts said. “Davidson made 23 threes ... I think Charleston Southern kind ran into a buzzsaw at Davidson. Instead of trying to run with us they tried to control the pace, and we had to adjust to that.”
Davidson, in fact, made 26 three-pointers, and Charleston Southern has been playing without 6-4 sophomore Christian Keeling, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season but is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Despite some poor shooting, CSU trailed 25-21 with less than three minutes left in the first half and was challenging the Pack defensively. The Buccaneers cut off lane penetration and forced the Wolfpack into outside jumpers as N.C. State got little inside from post players Lennard Freeman and Omer Yurtseven in the first half, although both contributed in the second.
But Hunt, the transfer from N.C. A&T, showed off his outside touch with a pair of 3s. An intentional foul on CSU’s Jamaal David on a Johnson drive became a four-point possession for N.C. State as Johnson made both free throws and Hunt followed with his third 3-pointer.
A steal and dunk by Johnson, then his 3 at the buzzer had Keatts smiling and clapping. There was still work to be done as CSU, with better shot selection, pulled within 12 points eight minutes into the second half.
The Pack played its second game without injured Abdul-Malik Abu. Keatts said he had no update on Abu or could say when Abu might return.