Well, with the Virginia Tech game being canceled, NC State has done just that. Potentially finishing off their regular season with one of their most impressive wins to date, taking out Notre Dame, on their homecourt, 80-69.
Here is our take on the win.
The freshmen have officially arrived
Remember when we wondered a few weeks back if Keatts should just throw the freshmen into the fire and see what happens? 45 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 blocks and 4 steals later, I think we. have our final answer.
The freshmen were the reason NC State beat Notre Dame on Wednesday night, and there is no debating that.
Cam Hayes led NC State with 20 points, but it was Dereon Seabron who stole the show. The 6’7 guard was everywhere for NC State. Seabron finished with 17 points, 13 boards, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal. He was dominant in transition, he was physical on the boards and his length bothered the ND guards all night. This was s glimpse into what Keatts saw in Seabron when he brought him in two years ago (he’s a redshirt freshman). It’s rare you find a 6’7 guard who is long and athletic and who has this type of body control. Seabron showcased all of that in this one and was the reason NC State dominated nearly the entire game vs. Notre Dame.
That’s not to take anything away from Cam Hayes, who also had a career night. The freshman PG dropped 20 points on an impressive 7-11 shooting and was 3-6 from long range. After two straight games of zero turnovers, Hayes turned the ball over 2 times, but the tradeoff was worth it. Hayes was much more active in attacking the defense and making them react. He also added 3 assists and 2 steals.
Shakeel Moore was also a big factor in the win. The freshman sparkplug came off the bench to score 8 points, dish out 3 assists, and didn’t turn the ball over a single time.
The season outlook was bleak after losing Devon Daniels and they took another blow when Thomas Allen went down, but those injuries opened the door for the freshmen to be thrown in the fire and man have they answered the bell.
The Wolfpack defense was outstanding
Notre Dame is one of the more efficient offensive teams in the ACC, but against the Wolfpack there was rarely an easy bucket to be had.
The NC State defense was outstanding. They switched every screen, smothering the Irish shooters and forcing them into situations they didn’t want to be in. A team that shoots 47% from the floor was held to just 37.5% shooting.
Prentiss Hubb, who scored 28 points in his last outing was held to just 5-15 shooting for 14 points. But even bigger was their defense on Nate Lazewski who came in averaging 14 points and was held to just 8 points in this one.
Intensity and focus was there from buzzer to buzzer
We were a little rough on the Pack after their win over Pitt. The focus and intensity seemed to be lacking and there were some questions on whether the freshmen had hit their wall. This win over ND, however, proved otherwise.
From the opening tip, it was obvious that NC State was locked in. Guys in the passing lanes, communication on defense, and a patient yet hungry offensive attack. Keatts had his guys ready.
The charge was led by the freshmen, but the tone was set by the NC State bigs who, while not filling up the stat sheet, made their presence felt. The Pack did a great job of keeping close to shooters, which made Notre Dame start looking inside. When they did, they were met by Manny Bates and DJ Funderburk, both of whom played physical and altered shots all night long.
This is a Wolfpack team that is clicking at the right moment and who has become a team you really don’t want to face in the ACC Tournament.
Survive and Advance
With that win and the cancellation of the Virginia Tech game, NC State is no officially in survive and advance mode. However, they’ve been in this mode for about 5 games now.
For the Pack to have a chance at the tournament they had to win out. They did that, and now it’s (likely) on to the ACC Tournament. Depending on how the NCAA Tournament committee decides to select the field of 64, NC State likely has to win a couple more to be considered, but right now, this team looks like a true contender. We’ll have to wait and see how the standings shake out, but the Pack will be anywhere between an 8 and a 10 seed. As we stated earlier, this is not a team you want to be matched up against right now, no matter who you are.
Give Keatts credit
When things are going bad, there’s always blame being thrown on the coach. However, when things go well, most fans focus on the players that are making thing happen on the floor.
I think it’s time to step back and really give credit to the job Kevin Keatts has done with this club. You go through two COVID pauses, you lose your senior leader (Daniels) and you lose a junior guard who has started most of your games. It would have been easy to pack it up and start focusing on next year. But that’s not what Kevin Keatts did.
Keatts has thrown his freshmen into the fire, he’s gone against his usual strategy of playing small and has relied on a lineup that most of the time has two bigs on the floor. He’s been forced to use his freshmen, but he’s done so by peppering in Braxton Beverly at the right times.
Whatever the equation is that he’s using, it’s working. Suddenly his freshmen are brimming with confidence and leading his team. Suddenly his mix of vets and newcomers are meshing. And suddenly NC State looks like one of the more dangerous teams in the ACC.
Sure, the players have gotten the job done, but Kevin Keatts needs to be given credit where it’s due. His ability to change course this many times during a season and reel off 5 wins in a row (the most since 2004) down the stretch, has been unbelievable. This season isn’t over yet, and it looks like NC State is starting to believe in themselves when it matters most.