Luke DeCock

Not the win the Wolfpack thought it had sealed, but a big one nonetheless

NC State's Keatts: 'I want those guys to learn how to finish'

NC State's coach Kevin Keatts talks about the Wolfpack's victory over the Clemson Tigers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Thursday, Jan. 12, 2018.
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NC State's coach Kevin Keatts talks about the Wolfpack's victory over the Clemson Tigers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Thursday, Jan. 12, 2018.

Omer Yurtseven delivered what appeared to be the exclamation point with 25 seconds to go and it turned out to be more of a semicolon. N.C. State went from apparent victory to probable victory to losing complete control of its own fate with a mere 0.2 of a second left.

It was a supernova of bad basketball in the final minute, from errant inbounds passes to missed free throws to turning the ball over under the Clemson basket with 1.3 seconds to go up three points before fouling a 3-point shooter.

Clemson's Gabe DeVoe made the first two free throws. N.C. State called timeout.

“I was just like, shoot, if he hits all three of these, you've got to tip your hat to him,” N.C. State's Al Freeman said.

After an N.C. State timeout, with Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts desperately imploring the crowd for noise, DeVoe missed the third. N.C. State, up 12 with 94 seconds to go, was up 78-77 when time finally expired.

“I was frustrated we got to that point, but I was just hoping that he missed it,” N.C. State forward Torin Dorn said. “And he did.”

So it wasn't the win the Wolfpack was expecting with a minute to go, but it was still a big one as N.C. State followed up its win over Duke with another over a ranked opponent.

Yurtseven's big dunk with 25 seconds to go that gave N.C. State a five-point lead and Yurtseven a career-high 29 points seemed like an ending at the time. Turned out it was merely the beginning of the end.

NC State's Omer Yurtseven talks about his career high 29 points in the Wolfpack's victory over the Clemson Tigers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018.

It was the kind of game N.C. State has lost in the past, with all the improbable craziness at the end. Remember Jarrell Eddie's tip-in of a missed free throw for Virginia Tech to force overtime? Or John Gillon's 43 points for Syracuse to erase a 16-point second-half Wolfpack lead? Or, dare we say his name, Chandler Parsons?

Not this night. And, as is becoming increasingly apparent as this group grasps what Keatts wants from it, not this team.

Keatts called it “38 minutes of great basketball,” and as awkward as the final two minutes were, he understood where it came from.

“What I did tell those guys was, get used to winning,” Keatts said. “I felt like it was a team at the end that was so excited about being there and not used to finishing the games. … It was a team that I think was a little surprised we were winning and we're a good basketball team and getting better, so I want those guys to learn how to finish.”

Amid those 38 great minutes, there was much Keatts could enjoy. N.C. State forced Clemson to play at the Wolfpack's pace, forced 17 turnovers and the final moments would never have been in doubt if the Tigers hadn't dominated the boards.

Then there's Yurtseven, whose development continues at an exponential pace. He bumped knees in the first half with Clemson's Marcquise Reed and had to leave the game so a trainer could rub some kind of salve on his leg on the N.C. State bench. Whatever it was, rub it on everyone's knees.

N.C. State hadn't followed a win over North Carolina or Duke with a win in more than a decade. There's still a lot to learn, especially with another top-25 opponent looming – ACC leader Virginia on Saturday.

“You got to go through it at one point,” Freeman said. “You've just to go learn how to finish games.”

Thursday, awkward as it may have been, was a step in that direction. The Wolfpack is going through it – and starting to learn from wins instead of losses.

NC State's Braxton Beverly talks about the return of Markell Johnson after felony assault charges filed against Johnson last month in a Cleveland, Ohio court were dropped Thursday, clearing the way for his suspension to end.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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