The fight that Kevin Keatts has liked about his team all season was there, even though it was a bit late.
The inability to put the ball in the basket, though, will get you every time no matter how much fight you have.
N.C. State started the game 0-12 from the floor against Virginia Tech. Things did get better, but the damage was already done. The Hokies did what they were supposed to do, taking advantage of a slow start from the Wolfpack. Virginia Tech picked up its second ACC win of the season, defeating N.C. State, 62-59.
The Wolfpack did make it interesting. Terquavion Smith, the freshman who has yet to shy away from the spotlight, twice hit triples to pull N.C. State within six. Each time, though, the Pack would give up a bucket to Virginia Tech.
The real momentum killer came with under 10 minutes remaining. Smith’s third three-pointer of the second half made it 50-44 in favor of the Hokies. After the basket, N.C. State guard Cam Hayes was called for a technical foul.
Naheim Alleyne only hit one of the two free throws, but what life N.C. State had was sucked out of the building.
The fact the Wolfpack had a chance late is something none of the fans in PNC could have predicted early on.
The bad news for N.C. State started 90 minutes before tip-off. The school announced that freshman Ernest Ross would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. The man who would get most of those minutes, Jaylon Gibson, did his part early. The sophomore forward scored the first four points of the game for N.C. State. Strangely enough that was as good as it got on the night for Gibson.
Virginia transfer Casey Morsell came off the bench and gave the Pack a spark in the first half. Dereon Seabron, State’s best player, only took four shots up until the last 10 minutes.
The combination of Seabron, Smith and Jericole Hellems were a major reason N.C. State cut the lead to two, 55-53, with 5:33 remaining. But Seabron missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Justyn Mutts scored a layup on the other end to push the lead to four.
Mutts (13 points, 6-8 shooting) was part of the reason the Hokies scored 34 points in the paint. Without Ross, that was one less big man at Keatts’ disposal. Keatts rotated Gibson and Ebenezer Dowuona, but one missed defensive assignment after another allowed Virginia Tech to score at ease inside. That’s been a constant problem this season.
The surprising issue this time was how flat N.C. State started the game. The Woflpack shot 8-25 (32 percent) from the field in the first half. For most of the game they didn’t have a go-to guy. Morsell had flashes, but wasn’t as aggressive late in the second half as he was in the first.
Seabron, Hellems and Smith finished with a combined 42 points, but were sleepwalking through the first half.
Virginia Tech picked up its first ACC road win of the year and N.C. State hasn’t won in Raleigh since December 9. When the Wolfpack defeated the Hokies on Jan. 4 in Blacksburg they outrebounded Virginia Tech 36-26. This time around the Hokies (10-7, 2-4) dominated the glass, 37-26. Virginia Tech scored 13 second chance points.
Morsell and Gibson were the only bench players to score for N.C. State, asking a lot of the starters.
Seabron tried his best to steal a win for the Pack, scoring four straight to make it a three-point game. He scored four straight in 21 seconds to pull the Pack to within three, 60-57.
He then muscled his way to the basket for a contested layup, making it 60-59 with 20.3 remaining.
Sean Pedulla, the Hokies freshman guard, calmly hit two from the line, pushing the lead to three with 12.4 remaining. That gave Keatts time to set up a play.
Smith, who finished with 14 points, bobbled the ball briefly, but was to get an attempt off. His shot bounced off the rim and N.C. State’s comeback attempt came up short.