The start of NC State’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Penn State couldn’t have gone much worse.
Five minutes in, head coach Kevin Keatts had already burned a time out. The Wolfpack had turned it over four times and missed all seven shots they’d taken. All of that added up to an 11-0 Penn State lead.
Turns out the Pack had them right where they wanted them.
“I knew once we scored, we’d settle in,” Keatts said. “Give these guys credit. They never panicked.”
The turnaround began when Keatts went to his bench. Omer Yurtseven had a double-double with 11 rebounds and a team-high 19 points. Sam Hunt hit four of five from outside the three-point line for 14 points, helping to spark the Pack to an 85-78 win.
“The guys that came off the bench did a great job,” Keatts said. “When we got Sam into the game and Omer came in, we were able to get going.”
Yurtseven was six-of-seven from the field and hit three long-distance shots.
“Omer was tremendous,” Keatts said. “He stuck three three-pointers from the top of the key. Now I’m going to have to let him take that shot.”
Guard Lavar Batts also came off the bench to hit a pair of threes and dished out three assists in nine minutes. “He changed the game with his energy,” Keatts said.
On a night when starting guards Braxton Beverly and Markell Johnson combined to shoot 1-for-12, and Torin Dorn went 2-of-11, the contribution from the bench was a godsend.
“We got a lift from the bench,” Keatts said. “That’s what you want when your starters aren’t playing well.”
The Pack reserves erased the Penn State lead in nine minutes, and State built a seven-point lead at halftime. The five starters were never on the floor together again.
“We’re finding ways to win,” Keatts said. “That’s when you know you’re becoming a great team.”
Notes: The Pack only dressed nine players for the game. Keatts announced before the game that forward Darius Hicks suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in practice earlier this week. He will miss the rest of the season. Also, forward Abdul-Malik Abu missed the game with a sore right knee. Abu missed the start of the season recovering from a Grade 2 MCL sprain and was held out as a precaution. Keatts wasn’t sure if he’d dress for the Pack’s next game on Saturday.