NC State basketball loses to Wright State ahead of ACC game


The North Carolina state basketball program was at its peak 24 hours ago.

One of the best days off the pitch in recent years was followed by one of the lowest moments.

Wright State, from the Horizon League, joined Raleigh with just three wins. His best win was against Purdue Fort Wayne on December 2. The key word is has been. His best now is an 84-70 road win over NC State.

A day earlier, the Pack found out they wouldn’t get an NCAA playoff ban, giving them hope for a playoff series this year. Now it’s hard to see that happening with this young team.

“The obvious is that we didn’t play well tonight,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “We didn’t play well on both sides. We just have, for some reason, five guys leading us. Not everyone played well tonight and when that happens I have to figure out, as a coach, how to win. I’m a little disappointed that we weren’t able to put it in place.

It seems like the best way for a team to gain some self-confidence is to play against this young Wolfpack team. By the end of the game, the Raiders felt like they owned the PNC Arena. At 4:52 am, with Wright State in double digits, fans started heading for the exits.

There was not much to see. Wright State was full of confidence, celebrating every big basket, and there were a lot of them, on the bench. NC State struggled to shake things up. Two games withdrawn to take then-No. 1 Purdue in overtime, the Pack played from behind against a 44-beaten Purdue side.

Wright State is No. 196 in the KenPom rankings. The only state school to have performed lower ranked was Bethune-Cookman (350). The Raiders might as well be in the top five. They looked like world batsmen against the Pack, especially at the post.

Raiders center Grant Basile led the team with 23 points and 14 rebounds. When not dominating the paint, AJ Braun was just as tough, finishing with 13 and 8.

The loss overshadowed another impressive performance from rookie goaltender Terquavion Smith, who scored a career-high 27 points. Unfortunately for most of the first half, Smith seemed like the only player interested in being there. He started the game 6 of 10 on the field, but the rest of the squad were 3 of 15 in the same span.

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NC State’s Dereon Seabron (1) and Jericole Hellems (4) leave the field after Wright State’s 84-70 win over NC State at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC on Tuesday, December 21, 2021. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

State led by one at the break, but Wright State started the second half 9-2 and never looked back. The last peloton lead was 40-39 at 18:39. NC State approached six in the second half, but cooled off as the Raiders warmed up.

Wright State shot 53% for the game, while the Frost Pack made 37% of their shots.

“I hope this is a unique case,” Keatts said. “I am preparing to go home for Christmas, a young team not mentally focused, sufficiently locked up. Hope this is what it is. I don’t know, but I hope it is.

Keatts won’t know until the team returns to the floor, which will be next week in Miami. Will there be any changes in the preparation or approach leading up to this competition?

“The funny thing is, I thought we had two really good days of training,” Keatts said. “Again, you can’t predict when you’ve got so many new guys. This is the first time that I have the impression that we play like we are young. From start to finish I thought we were playing young.

Here is what we learned:

THE BIG HAVE A BIG SUCCESS

Stop by if you’ve heard this before, but an opposing great man had a big day against NC State. It’s a recurring theme this season and it will likely continue to be the case. That’s okay against teams like Purdue and when State comes into the league, but Wright State?

The Raiders cut and paste what every other team has done against the Pack all year – toss the ball in and get easy buckets. The formula has worked all season. Wright State scored 46 points in the paint against NC State.

In the previous three games, the opponents topped the 130-92 Pack in the paint.

“We did a bad job defending the paint,” Keatts said. “We gave up 46 points in the paint, it’s never a good formula to win.”

SMITH HOT, THE REST OF THE TEAM NOT

If writing about State’s lack of presence seems repetitive, so will this next part – Terquavion Smith gets better with every game. Smith has stepped up his game this month.

“I feel like I bring a lot of energy, that’s exactly how I play,” said Smith. “I try to share my energy with my teammates and bring ourselves down whenever we need to.”

Unfortunately against Wright State, he didn’t receive much help, at least early in the game.

Smith scored the first eight points for NC State before his teammates embarked on the act of scoring. It didn’t help that backyard teammates Cam Hayes and Dereon Seabron got off slow starts. Hayes started the game 0 of 6 from the floor. The duo finished a 6-24 combined from the floor. Jericole Hellems finished with 14 but scored 12 in the first half.

“Seabron, who’s been great for us, he didn’t have it tonight,” Keatts said. “We have to understand, he won’t have a double-double every night, how to improve and how someone else can step up.”

IT’S NOT EASIER

After a break for the holidays, NC State has ACC play the rest of the way. The Pack have already faced an ACC opponent – Louisville on December 4 – and were two 3 points behind the win. Four days after Christmas, NC State heads to Miami. A home game against Florida State follows on January 1.

This story was originally published December 21, 2021 8:56 pm.

Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV has covered college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central, NC State and the ACC for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.


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