The Wolfpack had to have this win if they wanted to even have a chance at making a late run this season. Thanks to a truly gutsy effort, they got it.
State had 4 guys in double figures, shot almost 59% from the floor, hit 36% of their 3s, and kept the rebounding margin within 1. They got great production from the freshmen and rode their vets to a close victory.
Here is our take on Wednesday’s win.
1. The young guys stepped up in a big way
We ran an article that asked the question ‘Is it time to pass the torch to the Freshmen?‘ In that piece, we basically laid out the pros and cons of Keatts making a decision to limit minutes for Beverly and Thomas Allen in favor of the three freshmen, not as much to give a different look, but also to start preparing for next year.
Turns out, Keatts didn’t need to make the decision at all.
Thomas Allen turned his ankle in practice and was ruled out and Beverly was banging up so his minutes were limited. On top of that Jericole Hellems only logged 25 minutes due to foul trouble. This meant Keatts’ hand was forced. He had to roll the dice with his freshmen, and those guys produced.
Cam Hayes finished with 11 points, 9 assists and 3 steals.. Shak Moore had 2 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and 5 rebounds. And Dereon Seabron had 8 points and 2 boards.
However it wasn’t just an improved stat line that had State fans excited, it was the delivery down the stretch in the face of adversity. Hayes calmly knocked down 2 free throws with State only up 1, and they ramped up the defense as Pitt pushed for the lead.
It was a promising performance, but there is still work to be done. Going forward Keatts is likely to start ramping up minutes for these guys, especially Hayes. However, Cam does need to improve his shot selection, Seabron needs to polish up his passing and Moore needs to not get caught in the trees with no place to go on his drives. Oh and half of the TOs last night came from these three (7 of the 14), so that has to be cleaned up.
With Allen out and Beverly logging just 21 minutes, this was their show, and while there were undoubtedly some mistakes they delivered and earned a little trust in the process.
2. The upperclassmen came to play
We’ve seen some great play out of Jericole Hellems as of late, but DJ Funderburk and Braxton Beverly seemed to have been trailing off.
That changed on Wednesday.
Hellems once again was red hot, hitting 6-9 and scoring 17 points in only 25 minutes. This time, however, he had some back-up. Funderburk and Beverly both played some of their best basketball to date.
DJ scored 16 points on 6-9 shooting and grabbed 8 boards (4 of which were offensive). Meanwhile, Beverly pitched in with 12 points, hit two 3s, and only committed one turnover.
Funderburk looked a lot more locked in than he has in the past few games. I saw it floating around that this was only his 2nd assist on the season, and when I checked I saw that he only had 8 last year, but honestly, who cares? When he’s on the guy is so efficient on the block and he’s a great FT shooter (but not last night). He’s near 60% from the floor for his career. So excuse him if he’s not that eager to give it up. State underutilizes Funderburk, in my opinion, and the more touches he gets, the better State is going to fare.
Geeze, give this kid some credit. He’s battling a bunch of nagging injuries, he can’t sit down on the bench when he comes out of the game because of his bad back, yet he suits up every night. Sure, he’s a liability on defense at times, but this team needs Beverly and I think they need him in the role he played last night. He came off the bench and didn’t force the issue. He took what was given to him and knocked down shots when they left him open. This is the Beverly that State needs to see down the stretch.
Remember when they recruited Hellems and all anyone could talk about is the fact that he was the 3rd all-time leading scorer in his school’s history only behind NBA stars Bradley Beal and Jason Tatum (meanwhile Beal is averaging 32 for the Warriors and Tatum averages 25 for the Celtics). If you were wondering where that Jericole Hellems has been these past couple years, well look no further. This kid is scoring at all 3 levels. He’s physical, he’ll face you up, he’ll back you down. He’s suddenly become one of the most efficient offensive players on this basketball team.
Yeah, he screwed up and slapped the ball out of Champanie’s hands after the foul call, which resulted in a technical foul, but that’s Hellems. He’s passionate, firey and he’s looking to get in your head. Despite fouling out, he got the job done last night.
3. Keatts showed us a little zone
I’m no fan of the zone defense, but I am a fan of doing whatever you have to do to win.
It was a little surprising to hear Keatts say that they just put that zone defense in a few days ago, but you know him, he’s a ‘I’m going to tell you exactly what I’m going to do. Try to stop me.’ type guy.
That said, the zone wasn’t anything spectacular, but it did allow the Pack to get by and it seemed to throw Pitt off for a bit. See, the zone lets Keatts play Bates and Funderburk at the same time with Beverly and not have all these ‘switching’ problems.
No harm meant here, but Beverly is a liability on defense and when teams decided to attack him and take him into the post, it usually works out for them. That’s why hiding him in this zone is a great idea.
With Daniels done for the year, Allen out, Beverly banged up and Funderburk and Bates you’re only serviceable bigs, having this zone in your back pocket is a definite plus. I hope we see it peppered in a little more over the final stretch of the season.
4. Big win. Now on to the next…
This was a huge win for a lot of reasons. First off, it opens the door for a late-season run.
It’s still too early to write this season off though, especially if the freshmen are going to continue to mature and get good minutes. With Wake, Pitt, and Notre Dame all winnable games left on the schedule, they’d only need to beat either #13 Virginia or #16 VT to finish 9-9 in the conference.
Do that, win a few in the ACCT and who knows. You might squeak your way into the tournament.