The game was far from pretty, but that did nothing to dampen N.C. State’s first ACC road win of the season.
Pittsburgh, the ACC’s worst team, was beating the Wolfpack by 9 with a little less than six minutes to go on Wednesday night – and N.C. State was staring at an awful loss.
But Kevin Keatts’ first Wolfpack team proved once again that it had plenty of fight.
“It was a night when we were completely off offensively,” Keatts said after N.C. State’s 72-68 win. “We just talked about staying the course, getting better on the defensive end.”
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Looking for its first ACC win of the season, Pittsburgh led by 15 points in the first half. Pitt also led by as many as 11 points in the second half and by nine with 5:54 to play.
N.C. State’s attitude was not down, not out.
“We never quit on anything until the clock goes zero, zero, zero,” N.C. State 6-5, 210-pound junior guard Torin Dorn said. “If there is time on the clock, we always think we can win. We play fast enough that we can hit four 3s in a row and cut a 12-point lead and the game up really fast.”
That’s how the final minutes of this game played out at the Petersen Events Center.
N.C. State (14-7, 4-4 ACC) made 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions. Braxton Beverly’s two 3-pointers were sandwiched around one by Allerik Freeman, during a 13-0 run that turned a nine-point deficit into a four-point lead.
While the Wolfpack scored 13 points in a row and shot 46 percent in the second half, Pittsburgh (8-13, 0-8) showed why it is the league’s worst team.
The Panthers shot 31 percent in the second half, missing all 14 of its 3-pointers. After leading 66-57, the Panthers scored just two points in the final 5:50 of the game.
Pittsburgh starts three freshmen – guards Parker Stewart, Marcus Carr and Khameron Davis, and Keatts thought if he team could push them in the final minutes, the Panthers would come unraveled.
“We did know that they had some young players,” Keatts said, “and if we could stay close and inch away at it, I felt like they might get tight at the end. Now, I don’t know if that happened. I just thought we made plays.”
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said he’s pretty sure that’s what happened.
“I thought we took three or four bad shots that were not necessary shots,” Stallings said.
N.C. State shot just 33.8 percent, its worst shooting night in ACC play this season. The Wolfpack was made 9 of 35 3-pointers, and attempted more than it has in any league game this season. Three of them came on those three straight possessions during the late, game-deciding 13-0 scoring run.
“I thought we had great shots,” Keatts said. “Ideally, I don’t want to go into a game knowing that we are going to take 35 (3-point) shots. I thought we got some good shots that just didn’t go. When you look at it at the end of the game, I thought we flipped roles. They missed their last 14 3s and we made some shots and I think that’s because of our conditioning.”
The Wolfpack believes it will be the better team late in games because the players are in better shape. Keatts spent the summer and the fall working his team hard to get the players in the kind of shape needed to play his up-tempo style.
“It’s just the conditioning in practice and the mental toughness that we have,” said N.C. State sophomore center Omer Yurtseven, who led the Wolfpack with 16 points. “We worked hard in the summer just so we have energy at the last 10, last 15 minutes of the game.”
The win over Pitt was the second time in a week the Wolfpack had to rally late in a game. On Jan. 18, N.C. State scored the game’s final 11 points to beat Wake Forest 72-63.
Even as N.C. State was facing the possibility of being the first ACC team to lose to Pitt this season, Keatts saw his players stick together and fight for the win.
“Our guys were positive,” Keatts said. “I told them, ‘If you stay the course, we have the opportunity to win the game.’ What a great road win.”