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Markell Johnson’s late 3-pointer propels NC State to key win at Syracuse

Markell Johnson’s 3-pointer with 33.4 seconds to play put N.C. State in front for good as the Wolfpack beat Syracuse 74-70 in ACC basketball at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night.

Johnson’s basket allowed the Wolfpack (17-9, 7-6 ACC) to escape with a win in a back-and-forth game that saw seven ties. N.C. State trailed by six points with 9:42 to play and built an eight-point lead with 2:45 to play only to see Syracuse (17-9, 6-7 ACC) tie the game at 70.

The Wolfpack, though, stayed poised and worked the ball to Johnson for the game-deciding basket.

“Our guys, when things weren’t going our way, stuck in there,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said.

Allerik Freeman scored 17 points to lead N.C. State, which shot 55.1 percent. Johnson scored 16 and Sam Hunt had 14 with four 3-pointers in the game’s final 9:24.

“I thought we did a great job in the second half finding some gaps in their zone,” Keatts said. “We made some great plays. I thought our guys, particularly Sam Hunt, came off the bench and made some big shots for us.”

N.C State appeared in control with a 70-62 lead with 2:45 to play. But Oshae Brissett, who scored a game-high 25 points, started a Syracuse comeback with a 3-pointer. After a Torin Dorn turnover for N.C. State, Tyus Battle’s layup at 1:45 left N.C State up 70-67.

Omer Yurtseven missed a shot and, with 1:02 left, a Brissett 3-pointer tied the game at 70.

After a timeout, N.C. State moved the ball around to Johnson, who drilled an open 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 73-70 lead with 33.4 seconds left.

Brissett attempted to tie the game again but missed a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left. Lavar Batts grabbed the rebound for N.C. State but missed the front end of a one-and-bonus.

With 5.7 seconds to play, Frank Howard was fouled but missed both free throws for Syracuse. Yurtseven’s free throw closed the scoring.

With Johnson on the bench with four fouls after he was involved in a double-technical with Howard at the 12:59 mark, N.C. State saw the Orange score five points in a row to take a 54-48 lead.

But the Wolfpack fought back with eight consecutive points. Hunt started the run with a 3-pointer from the baseline and Dorn scored inside on a bank shot.

Al Freeman put N.C. State in front when he stole a pass, drove for a layup and added a free throw after being fouled. His play gave N.C. State a 56-54 lead with 8:23 to play.

“We got stops when we needed to,” Hunt said. “We rebounded and then luckily we made some shots when we were open.”

When Al Freeman sank a 3-pointer with 6:09 to play, N.C State led 62-58.

Freeman’s driving basket through the zone with 4:24 left extended the Wolfpack’s lead to 64-59.

Hunt added two more 3-pointers, the second with 2:45 to play giving N.C State a 70-62 lead.

“It felt good but I can’t take any of the credit,” Hunt said. “My teammates found me. They did a great job finding me in the open gaps. I give them all the credit.”

The Wolfpack survived a slow start to close the half hot and take a 35-32 halftime lead.

N.C. State shot 48 percent in the first half. The Wolfpack turned the ball over eight times in the first 12 minutes, allowing Syracuse to take a 24-17 lead with 7:53 left in the half.

But the Orange scored just one basket over the next five minutes as N.C State tightened up its half-court defense and started protecting the ball better on its end.

The Wolfpack committed just two turnovers over the final eight minutes of the half.

A Braxton Beverly 3-pointer started an N.C. State surge. With Syracuse up 26-20, N.C. State rattled off 10 points in a row.

Hunt scored on a baseline jumper and Yurtseven hit a shot in the lane. Johnson dank a 3-point shot and, in transition, Johnson hit a layup while drawing a foul. His free throw with 3:54 left until halftime gave the Wolfpack a 30-26 lead.

Al Freeman scored N.C. State’s final five points of the half, nailing a 3-pointer over the top of the 2-3 zone and driving to sink a contested layup with one second left in the first half.

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