As a team, N.C. State’s final week of nonconference play began with a humbling, 81-76, loss to UNC Greensboro.
For senior Allerik Freeman, that game was part of stretch of cold shooting that saw him hit just 8 of 34 shots over three games.
Even last Tuesday night, when the Wolfpack bounced back from the UNCG loss with a 81-69 win over Robert Morris, Freeman made just 1 of 10 shots.
On Friday night, in N.C. State’s final game before ACC play, the team and its leading scorer had their good vibes going at the same time.
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Freeman regained his shooting stroke, making 8 of 15 shots overall (including 7 of 11 3-pointers) to score a career-high 25 points as the Wolfpack routed Jacksonville 116-64 at PNC Arena.
“Now,” Freeman said, “we can go into Christmas feeling good about ourselves and get ready for ACC play.”
The player and the team needed this kind of performance. N.C. State’s next game comes Dec. 30 at Clemson, the first of 18 consecutive ACC games.
Freeman, a 6-3 guard from Charlotte, left Baylor as a graduate transfer to play his final season of college basketball at N.C. State. The lure of the ACC drew him back to his home state.
“We’re excited about it,” Freeman said. “That’s what we all dream of as little kids is playing in the best conference. That’s why I transferred here.”
But he didn’t want to head into league play mired in a deep shooting slump and his struggles in the three previous games had his season shooting average down to 34.2 percent.
N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts knew his team couldn’t afford Freeman shooting like that. He considered sitting Freeman down for a film review session to shake him from the funk.
But he decided against it, opting to let his veteran player work things out.
Freeman professed to having no doubts.
“I knew that this game was going to come sooner or later,” Freeman said. “A lot of my shots were right there. Tonight my teammates did such a great job of finding me when I had a lot of space. I saw that first one go down and from there it was a wrap.”
Keatts showed confidence in Freeman’s ability to get his mind right and not let the streak of poor shooting games keep him down.
But Keatts left practice Thursday unsure of Freeman’s physical health because of a fall he took in practice.
“He took a pretty nasty spill,” Keatts said. “He fell on his back and honestly I wasn’t sure if he was going to play because it was a tough fall. I’ll give him credit. He came in. He was locked in. He made some shots. I’m excited about the kid. He needed to see the basketball go in the hole and he did tonight.”
Freeman carries a team-best 15.5 scoring average into the Clemson game, having led the Wolfpack (10-3) in scoring six times. He’s made 31.4 percent of his 3-pointers this season.
Preseason predictions have the rebuilding Wolfpack among the ACC’s bottom four teams. Ken Pomeroy’s projections at kenpom.com have N.C. State going 6-12 in league play, better than only Georgia Tech (5-13) and Pittsburgh (3-15).
N.C. State’s shooting -- the team set a program record with 19 3-pointers made -- in Friday night’s game shows the Wolfpack has the potential to improve on those lowly projections.
If N.C. State is to do that, Freeman will have to lead the way.
In the last game before things get real, he showed he’s up to the task.