Sam Hunt sparks NC State rally over Charleston Southern

Hot shooting sparks 17-0 run to close first half

North Carolina State Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts calls a play in the second half of the college basketball game between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, November 12, 2017. The North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the Charleston Southern Buccaneers 78 - 56. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Sam Hunt made 74 three-pointers last season. They were for North Carolina A&T, before he came to NC State in the offseason as a graduate transfer, but that total would have been just shy of Terry Henderson’s 78, which led the Wolfpack.

With Henderson gone, the Pack knew they would have to look to Hunt for outside help this season. On Sunday afternoon, for the first time this season, he provided it.

“Thank God we did a good job of finding Sam,” coach Kevin Keatts said after State’s 78-56 won over Charleston Southern, to move to 2-0 on the season.

Hunt was only 3-for-8 from long range, improving him to 7-of-16 on the season, but they were well-timed.

“His threes for us were when we weren’t playing particularly well on offense,” Keatts said.

The Wolfpack let Charleston Southern hang around for much of the first half. After two Southern free throws following the under-four minute timeout, NC State was clinging to a 25-21 lead over a team that lost to Davidson 110-62 on Friday.

“We definitely didn’t come out with the energy we should have,” said Torin Dorn, who had 14 points and six rebounds in the win.

Southern ran a deliberate offense, slowing down the game and keeping State from running out in transition, which is Keatts’ preference.

Just before halftime, however, Hunt was able to speed things up. He knocked down all three of his treys in a 62-second span, helping balloon State’s lead to 15 and triggering a 17-0 run to close the half.

While it’s the first time most NC State followers got a taste of Hunt’s clutch shooting, it’s nothing new to his teammates.

“One of the games in Italy, he had like 40 points,” said Allerik Freeman, who led the Pack in scoring with 18. “I think he hit 10 or 11 three-pointers. He’s a sniper.”

Hunt denied the claim, saying that he had a good game in Italy, “but Allerik might be exaggerating a little bit.”

“No, it’s true,” argued Keatts. “He was good. You guys saw it tonight. Now, I don’t know which game it was, but certainly he made some shots, and he made some big ones for us.”

Hunt was quick to credit State’s defense, which shut Charleston Southern down for the final 2:54 of the half, setting the stage for his heroics.

“Our effort in the first half of the game, we didn’t pick it up defensively until the four-minute mark of the first half,” he said. “We tried to play the game by each media timeout and win each media, but we didn’t dominate the game like we should have. It’s our approach, how we go into the game. We weren’t mentally ready to go into the game, and it showed, we came out sluggish.”

Keatts wasn’t happy about the start, or a second half that saw State outscore Charleston Southern by just one, but for a work in progress, he’s comfortable with the position NC State is in.

“I told them there are going to be nights (like this),” he said. “Because we’re a transition team, I think sometimes everybody expects us to score in the hundreds all the time, even our guys, but it’s not always going to (be a) win that way. If you’re going to win a championship at any level, you’ve got to learn to win every type of way, even if it’s in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or even a hundred for us.”