Twice this season Kevin Keatts has directed his N.C. State Wolfpack to inspiring wins over Triangle ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina.
Twice the Wolfpack had a few days off to bask in the adulation before continuing through the always tough ACC schedule.
Twice Keatts and the Wolfpack navigated what’s often been a tough path for the program with aplomb.
Saturday’s 76-58 blasting of Notre Dame wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. N.C. State never trailed, led by 16 at halftime and was up by 30 points with 8:25 to play before the Irish closed the gap in garbage time.
The Wolfpack expended about all the energy it had to win 95-91 in overtime at UNC on Jan. 27. The team bus rolled down Hillsborough Street that afternoon to a celebration at the Bell Tower and enjoyed some ice cream.
Keatts gave the team two days off before resuming practice on Tuesday. The fun of the UNC win was behind the Wolfpack. It was time to prepare to beat Notre Dame so as not to spoil that win over the Tar Heels.
“We couldn’t necessarily look at it as we beat Carolina,” N.C. State freshman guard Braxton Beverly said. “It was we won our fifth game in the ACC. That’s the way we had to look at it. Enjoy it. Get back to work. Get ready for the next one.”
N.C. State employed that approach a month ago after it beat Duke 96-85 at PNC Arena. The team had to get ready to face Clemson, another top-25 team, in a home game five nights later.
The Wolfpack won that game 78-77, part of a turnaround following an 0-2 ACC start that has N.C. State in position to make the NCAA tournament.
Steady, confident play has N.C. State (16-7, 6-4 ACC) exceeding preseason predictions that had the Wolfpack finishing 12th in the ACC.
N.C. State has impressive wins on its way for the selection committee to see. The Wolfpack is also succeeding by not looking back and, in the process, soiling them.
“All we thought about was the next game,” N.C. State sophomore center Omer Yurtseven said of this week’s preparation. “We had to win it. That’s all we thought about.”
N.C. State is getting to the point where production from certain areas is expected.
Yurtseven had 10 points and 10 rebounds, his third double-double in ACC play this season. He’s averaging 16 points and seven rebounds per game in ACC games.
Sophomore point guard Markell Johnson, after scoring 20 in the win over the Tar Heels, had just five points on four shots against Notre Dame on Saturday. But he grabbed six rebounds and amassed 10 assists, the fourth game in a row he’s had 10 or more assists.
Junior Torin Dorn scored 21 points after scoring 20 at UNC. He’s scored in double figures in seven of N.C. State’s 10 ACC games.
Beverly hit three of N.C. State’s six 3-pointers to score 16 points. He’s scored in double figures in four of N.C. State’s last five games. The Wolfpack has gone 4-1 in those games.
That’s four of N.C. State’s five starters who are producing in positive ways with regularity.
“We are believing in ourselves,” Keatts said. “We have trust in our teammates.”
The Wolfpack is in the midst of stretch where it plays five of seven games on the road. N.C. State has won the first three of those seven games, with a trip to play at Virginia Tech up next on Wednesday.
Then UNC comes to PNC Arena for a rematch Saturday.
It’s a tough, season-defining stretch for N.C. State and, so far, the Wolfpack is proving up to the task.