NC State's Keatts: 'We found a way to win... because I thought our guys defended at the end'
North Carolina State and Wake Forest spent the entire second half battling back and forth, with neither team grabbing the game by the horns and taking control.
Then in the final three minutes the Wolfpack took over. N.C. State forced consecutive turnovers, and hit enough timely shots to defeat Wake Forest 72-63, closing the game on an 11-0 run.
The game was tied three times in the last seven minutes and Wolfpack forward Torin Dorn knotted things up at 63 with 2:13 remaining. The Demon Deacons then made what turned out to be their first fatal mistake. Wake Forest was called for a 10 second violation when Bryant Crawford couldn’t get the ball over the halfcourt line in time. Markell Johnson then knocked down a short jumper to put the hometeam up two. That basket was followed by a jumper from the right wing by Dorn and another Wake Forest turnover.
Johnson, in his first action in PNC since Dec. 2, knocked down two from the line, putting State ahead six, the final nail in the coffin for Wake Forest (8-10, 1-5), who rode into Raleigh with a two-game winning streak over N.C. State (13-6, 3-3).
“I thought we won the game on the defensive end on a night that we weren’t particularly shooting the ball well,” Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts said. “We found a way to win another ACC game because I thought our guys found a way to defend at the end. Those last four minutes were really good.”
Wolfpack sophomore center Omer Yurtseven led the way with 22 points, his second consecutive 20-point game in PNC Arena. Yurtseven, the teams third leading scorer (12.3 ppg) scored 13 points after the break.
“He’s starting to believe in himself,” Keatts said. “He’s starting to score around the basket. I’m very impressed with him and he’s getting better everyday.”
He scored six of the Wolfpacks first eight points after halftime, and tied the game at 61 with a layup with 3:29 remaining. That’s after N.C. State spent most of the second half playing catch up to the Demon Deacons, who have now lost three in a row in ACC play. Wake Forest led by five at the break, but never led by more than six (44-38) in the second half.
In the first half N.C. State Keatts went with an unusual lineup of Johnson (13 points), LaVar Batts, Jr., Dorn (11), Lennard Freeman and Sam Hunt, with leading scorers Yurtseven and Allerik Freeman on the bench. The Wolfpack got production out of the lineup with Dorn scoring on a pair of layups and Batts knocking down a three to give N.C. State a five-point lead while their top scorers got a rest.
The Wolfpack biggest lead (26-17) came after consecutive three’s from Johnson, his first points since Dec. 9. Johnson missed six games due to a suspension and went scoreless in the Pack’s loss to Virginia last weekend. However, after a Yurtseven dunk put the Wolfpack up nine, the Demon Deacons went on a 13-0 run to go up 30-26. State went 0-for-7 from the field during the stretch and turned the ball over once.
The Wolfpack started the game hitting five of their first seven shots from the floor, including a long three from Yurtseven, who was shooting 64 percent from three coming into the game. Wake tied the game at 11 after a pair of free throws from Bryant Crawford, before Keatts went with the small lineup that provided a spark. Johnson, however, picked up his third foul of the first half with 2:40 remaining in the first half. State also couldn’t knock down shots from outside, shooting 25 percent (4-16) from three in the opening 20 minutes. Wake was a bit more efficient from three, shooting 42 percent from behind the line. State made it work around the basket, though, shooting 65 percent from the field for the game.