NC State coach Kevin Keatts: 'I thought we had tremendous effort'
Kevin Keatts promised a new style when he was hired by N.C. State.
The first-year coach has also delivered new results for the Wolfpack.
Senior guard Allerik Freeman scored a career-high 29 points, and made all seven of his 3-point shots, to lead the Wolfpack to a 95-91 overtime upset of No. 10 North Carolina on Saturday.
It was a stunning reversal from a year ago when the Tar Heels pulverized the Wolfpack 107-56 in the Smith Center.
“Coach’s slogan has been the new era,” sophomore forward Omer Yurtseven said. “It just shows it and it exactly represents what it says.”
N.C. State (15-7, 5-4 ACC) notched its fourth win over a top-25 team and Keatts improved to 2-0 against neighborhood powers Duke and Carolina.
Keatts, who quickly turned around the UNC-Wilmington program in his first season, is doing the same with the Wolfpack. Halfway through the ACC schedule, N.C. State has surpassed last year’s conference win total.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels (16-6, 5-4 ACC) have matched their conference losses from a year ago.
In the same building last January, UNC piled up its biggest margin over victory in an ACC game … ever. N.C. State was merely a speed bump on UNC’s way to the regular-season ACC title and the national title.
But things have changed for both sides.
“Every year is different,” said UNC forward Luke Maye, who had a game-high 31 points. “They’ve got different players, we’ve got different players and different roles. I think they got us today.”
N.C. State blistered UNC from the 3-point line with Freeman setting a Smith Center record for makes without a miss. The Wolfpack finished 15 of 30 from the 3-point line while UNC was just 4 of 19.
Sophomore guard Markell Johnson’s 3 at 4:13 in overtime gave N.C. State an 88-85 lead and put the Wolfpack in control.
Maye traveled on UNC’s next possession and then Freeman made it 89-85 with a free throw at 2:25 in overtime.
The Heels cut State’s lead to 93-91 with 9 seconds left with Maye’s third 3-pointer and then forced a turnover on the inbounds play.
Freshman Sterling Manley, who only played 5 minutes, was able to steal the inbounds pass but turned the ball back over with an errant pass to Johnson with 3 seconds left.
“We almost had a miraculous steal there and we sort of panicked,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Johnson (20 points, 11 assists) iced the game with a pair of free throws. He nearly won the game in regulation. With the game tied at 83, State wanted to isolate Yurtseven (16 points, 13 rebounds) on Joel Berry on a defensive switch.
They got the matchup they wanted but Johnson ended up with Maye and was able to take the UNC big man off the dribble for a basket with 10.9 seconds left in regulation.
The Heels were able to push the ball back, with senior wing Theo Pinson (22 points, 15 rebounds) getting to the rim and guard Cam Johnson (12 points, six assists) getting the missed shot.
Johnson was fouled with 4.2 seconds left and went to the free-throw line down 83-81. Johnson made both free throws to force overtime.
One problem for UNC was it went 11 of 20 from the foul line. So despite shooting 63 percent from the field in the second half, and a 48-34 rebounding advantage, it couldn’t stay unbeaten at home in ACC play (4-1 now).
A year ago, the game was over by halftime. There have been wholesale changes on both sides since that game but Torin Dorn was one of the Wolfpack players who remembered how ugly it was.
“That loss was embarrassing,” said Dorn, who scored 20 points. “When you lose in that fashion you have to come and avenge that.”
That’s what N.C. State, a 13-point underdog, did. What a difference a year makes. What a difference a new coach makes.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio