There were things that Kevin Keatts wanted to make sure of this time around against Clemson.
It was only about two weeks ago that the Pack fell 78-62 to the Tigers, but it was more of a “we beat ourselves” type of loss. The Pack played sloppy, selfish basketball and really didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm you need on the road in the ACC.
Those things needed to change this time around, and they did.
NC State came out of the gates hungry. They were playing max-effort defense for a majority of this basketball game. They were playing a much more team-oriented brand of basketball, and of course, they had a much different version of Omer Yurtseven.
These things were obvious to the eye, but how did they play out statistically?
To get a better understanding of that, we took a look at the advanced statistics.
NC State: 49.3
Takeaway: NC State played great pressure defense against the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean it was without flaws. State did a poor job guarding the pick and roll, allowing Clemson to get a lot of clean looks and they knocked them down. Credit the Tigers. They can flat out shoot it. They also did a great job at exploiting mismatches. Donte Grantham dropped 16, and most of those were just him beating Lennard Freeman or Malik Abu off the bounce. This Clemson team is good. They play solid defense and have a high-efficiency offense.
Meanwhile, although the NC State number doesn’t look bad at all, they didn’t necessarily have a great offensive game. Omer Yurtseven did. Take away Yurt’s 12-18 (67%) and 5-6 from 3pt range, the Pack shot just 16-49 for 33% and 5-15 for 33%. Actually, this was a game NC State normally loses. When Beverly and Al Freeman go cold, it usually equals a long night. However, 29 points and a large usage rate for Yurtseven pushed the Pack to victory. It just goes to show how having just one more guy step up on offense can drastically change the outlook of this team. Add in the fact that Markell Johnson is returning, and all of the sudden, this team is dangerous.
NC State: 5
Takeaway: Biggest stat of the game right here. The Wolfpack did a great job at turning over the Tigers. They forced 17 turnovers, which is just a little above average for them, but they did it against a team that usually is pretty good at taking care of the ball (13 TOs per game). Couple that with the fact that NC State had it’s lowest turnover total of the season with only 4 and you have a recipe for success.
Credit the Pack for really coming out of the gate hard and putting tons of pressure on the Clemson guards. Batts, Beverly, Freeman, and Dorn all played really physical and very aggressive. This sped up Clemson a good deal and forced them into making a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes. There was a stretch about three quarters through the second half where you could just see Keatts obsession with conditioning paying off. The Clemson guards were tired and settling for poor shots, while NC State’s defense kept coming in waves.
Let’s also not forget to give credit to the Wolfpack point guards. Braxton Beverly and Lavar Batts Jr are both freshmen. They just handled a very talented, veteran defense and combined for only 1 turnover. That type of poise and execution out of first-year players is unheard of. These guys were big reasons NC State won this game.
NC State: 20.5
Takeaway: It was obvious that Clemson’s focal point this game was to beat NC State on the boards. The Pack out muscled Clemson in the paint on the first meeting and Brownell and his men weren’t going to have it again. State is one of the ACC’s best on the offensive glass, but Clemson kept them off of it and ended beating them at their own game.
NC State: 15.5
Takeaway: NC State had 11 steals on the night. Lavar Batts Jr had 5 of those. This kid is becoming a lockdown defender and he’s halfway through his first college season. His dogging of the opposing guards should be credited for a more than just 5 turnovers. He sped up Reed all night long and made him think twice about forcing the issue on the drive. These past few games have been massive for Batts, who now will get to team up with Markell Johnson at times. That backcourt should have opposing guards shaking in their boots. Just getting the ball down the court is going to take a lot of energy with these two out there.
The other big stat here is the zero from Clemson. Brownell will say his guys didn’t pressure enough on defense, and maybe that is true, but to me, it looked like NC State just played smart, focused basketball at the guard position. State finished with 15 assists on 28 made FGs, so it’s not like they were playing it safe. Clemson’s inability to turn NC State over definitely factored into this loss, but I think it’s more about the Wolfpack guards playing a great game, than it is Clemson playing poorly.
NC State: 53.6
Takeaway; Two games in a row now where NC State has been at 50% or above. It’s no coincidence that a high assist % is going hand in hand with big wins. When you share the basketball, the game becomes a lot easier. Getting open shots becomes a lot easier. Having fun becomes a lot easier, and you’re seeing that for the Wolfpack.
But where are those assists coming from? You expect them from Batts and Beverly but it’s been Al Freeman who has changed his approach and can be credited with helping this offense start to trend up. He finished with 5 assists for the second consecutive game. He only had 5 one other time all season and it was against lowly Jacksonville. He’s still volume shooting a little too much, but you’ll deal with the tradeoff when he’s responsible for a third of your team’s assists.
NC State played ‘Keatts basketball’ on this night. They hounded the opposing guards, forcing a faster tempo and 17 turnovers. On offense, while the rest of the team struggled to shoot it, Omer Yurtseven played the best game of his college career. His 67% from the floor and 29 points were the difference maker.
Is any of this repeatable?
Well, the team defense seems to be something that is starting to stick. They are really getting after it lately and there aren’t any true outliers as far as the defensive statistics go. 40 deflections last night was likely their best by far in ACC play and the maturation of Batts is a big boost for that side of the ball.
Offensively they are definitely listening to Keatts when he talks about sharing the ball. All Freeman seems to be the one responsible for the change. When the team sees him moving it, they don’t mind moving it. Creating for your teammates is the easiest way to an open look, and right now you have 3 guys doing that, making NC State a lot more efficient then they were earlier this season.
I think you are seeing certain players mature, and this isn’t a statistics thing, but just the confidence you’re seeing from guys like Yurtseven, Batts and Beverly is starting to show a lot more these days. Those guys growing up is going to help NC State all around. Add Markell Johnson back to this mix and all of the sudden, NC State looks like a very tough opponent on most nights.