No N.C. State player took more shots in the Wolfpack’s first two ACC games than Allerik Freeman.
Duke certainly knew that entering last Saturday’s game against N.C. State. Freeman struggled making shots in those first two ACC games – losses at Clemson and Notre Dame, so the Blue Devils gave the 6-3, 210-pound graduate student guard extra attention.
It’s what Freeman decided to do with that extra attention that led to the Wolfpack’s 96-85 upset win over No. 2 Duke.
And the hope is that Freeman and the rest of the Wolfpack took what they learned in that win into Thursday’s game with No. 19 Clemson at PNC Arena.
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Freeman is the Wolfpack’s leading scorer this season, averaging 15.3 points per game. So when Duke denied him the ball in an effort to stymie him, Freeman yielded to his teammates and distributed the ball more.
As a result, a Wolfpack team that averaged just 60 points per game against Clemson on Dec. 30 and Notre Dame on Jan. 3 while shooting 34.7 and 36.7 percent, was an offensive powerhouse in beating Duke.
Freeman attempted 35 shots combined in the Clemson and Notre Dame losses, making just 10 of them.
In the first half against the Blue Devils, Freeman attempted three shots. He missed them all but he also collected two assists that helped the Wolfpack take a 43-41 halftime lead.
When he discovered Duke’s defensive approach, Freeman told freshman point guard Braxton Beverly to be more aggressive in driving toward the basket on his side.
“I went to Braxton and told him to drive my side because they really aren’t going to have any help,” Freeman said. “I told him to use me kind of like a decoy.”
Beverly and freshman reserve point guard Lavar Batts each had three first-half assists against Duke as N.C. State found its points on passes inside to sophomore center Omer Yurtseven, redshirt senior forward Lennard Freeman and senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu.
In the second half, Allerik Freeman and the guards kept pounding the ball inside, and found open shots and made them, as Duke scrambled on defense.
“I knew this game I wasn’t going to have a lot of catch-and-shoot opportunities,” Freeman said. “So in the second half I got the ball more and had to attack off the bounce. When you get a lot of attention you can create for other guys. I just let the game happen.”
The Wolfpack shot 54.5 percent in the second half and finished at 51 percent for the game.
Freeman and the rest of the Wolfpack (11-5, 1-2 ACC) need to continue to roll heading into their game Thursday against Clemson (14-1, 3-0), and at No. 8 Virginia (15-1, 4-0) on Sunday.
N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts gave Allerik Freeman credit for giving the offense a boost with the shots he didn’t take against Duke.
“It started with Al Freeman,” Keatts said. “I sit down with every guard and I sit down with Al and I told them if we are going to be successful we have to play off each other.”
In the second half at Duke, Freeman shot nine times but made four of them. He finished with 15 points and five assists. That matched his season-high total in assists. He also had five when N.C. State beat then-No. 2 Arizona 90-84 on Nov. 22 in the Bahamas.
Freeman called N.C. State’s lopsided losses at Clemson and Notre Dame “uncharacteristic” and is confident that when the team’s offense is as good as it was against Duke, the Wolfpack will have more success.
“When you are making shots it’s easier,” Freeman said. “Easier to play defense. Easier to get back in defensive transition. We had contributions from everybody that played. It was just a great night. Everybody was into it. We had everybody’s back. When different guys get going early, it opens up the court for other people.”
Clemson at NC State
When: 9 p.m., Wednesday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh