Forrest Gump said it best, N.C. State games are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
Gump actually said “life” and not N.C. State basketball games, but the message is the same.
Wolfpack basketball games are about as predictable as North Carolina weather. N.C. State’s losing record coming into Saturday’s game against Virginia would insist there has been more bad than good.
The one constant, and head coach Kevin Keatts has repeated this over and over, is that his team fights. They haven’t won all of the fights, but they never throw in the towel. That was the case early on against the Cavaliers. N.C. State kept fighting, kept swinging and it paid off in a 77-63 win over Virginia.
It was the Wolfpack’s first home win since Dec. 9 when it beat Bethune-Cookman, 65-48, at Reynolds Coliseum and its first win at PNC Arena since its 104-100 four-overtime victory over Nebraska on Dec. 1.
This season, the Wolfpack (10-10, 3-6) has been at its best when shooting well from 3. Senior forward Jericole Hellems and freshman guard Terquavion Smith took care of that part early.
Hellems first 15 points were all from behind the line. Smith, who missed a potential game-tying shot against Virginia Tech, came out firing. He had 14 against the Hokies and had 16 at the half on Saturday.
Hellems shot 8-12 from three and finished with 21 points, his eighth career game with 20 points or more. In the second half he refused to let the team lose, hitting one timely shot after another. He got help from Dereon Seabron, who scored nine of his 13 after the half.
Never taking their foot off the gas, N.C. State outscored UVA (11-8, 5-4) 34-31 in the second half
The Pack led by 11 at the half, their largest halftime deficit of the year. That had the crowd at PNC hype, but this team has blown leads before. They did it against then-No. 1 Purdue last month, a game that proved they could play with literally the best team in the country.
The flashes have given fans enough hope that this team could be good, but the proof has been hard to come by. Against Virginia, N.C. State was relentless, a word they adopted before a road win over Virginia Tech on Jan. 4.
State’s been 1-3 since then. The lone win was on the road versus Louisville, when the Pack shot the lights out. State tied their season-high with 12 made threes. The Pack shot a season-high 48 percent from three. They had the hot hand again on Saturday, even with the winter chill outside. N.C. State closed the first half on a 25-6 run and led at the break 43-32.
UVA came into the game shooting 31 percent from three, but shot an uncharacteristic 71 percent in the first half on Saturday. The Cavs came back down to earth in the second half, shooting 50 percent from three. Of course, they didn’t stay that hot. But N.C. State did, never letting up after the break. The closest the Cavaliers got was 10.
For once, a late Wolfpack lead felt safe. It felt like a day when the ball was bouncing their way. That was apparent when Hellems hit a difficult turnaround, fade away jumper in the lane. It was really apparent when forward Ebenezer Dowuona, not known for his scoring, put one in to put N.C. State up 17.
Even after UVA hit a deep three, Casey Morsell, the former Virginia guard, hit a deep three, extending the lead to 19 with 3:25 to go.
Saturday marks the first home win over the Cavaliers since Feb. 21, 2009. Keatts was previously 0-2 versus UVA inside of PNC Arena. The win by N.C. State snapped a seven-game win streak by UVA in PNC, which was the longest of any ACC team.