RALEIGH — Kevin Keatts’ high-energy, up-tempo style is a dream come true for athletic, versatile wing players such as Torin Dorn and Allerik Freeman.
But not big, bulky post players the likes of 6-foot-8, 265-pound Lennard Freeman.
And yet, even as Dorn, the smaller Freeman and other members of the NC State basketball team have thrived in their first three games under their new coach, the bigger Freeman has benefited just as much.
The fifth-year senior set a career high with 17 points in the Wolfpack’s season-opening win against VMI last week. Tuesday, he raised the bar even higher by hitting for 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting, while adding five rebounds and two steals to lead his team to a 95-72 win against Bryant at PNC Arena.
While Freeman’s early scoring prowess has taken some by surprise, he isn’t among them given the system the Wolfpack are running.
“The way we play gets the bigs a little more involved,” he said. “When we play, everybody shares the ball and we get so many more possessions, so many more shots. On any given night it could be anyone’s day.”
On this particular day, five State players scored in double figures, with Dorn equaling his career high with 26 points, Allerik Freeman adding 15 and the sophomore duo of Markell Johnson and Darius Hicks adding 10 each.
“I play hard and that’s the way we play,” Lennard Freeman said. “When you’re playing hard and working hard, the basketball gods tend to favor you.”
Unlike previous editions of the Wolfpack, this group puts out as much effort on defense as it does on the offensive end of the court.
Although Bryant got off to a hot start by hitting five of its first 11 3-pointers, shooting 65 percent from the floor in the first half and jumping out to an early 19-7 lead, State’s relentless full-court press eventually wore the Bulldogs down.
It forced Bryant into 27 turnovers, leading to 35 points. At one point, the Bulldogs went four straight possessions without getting the ball across midcourt as part of a 13-0 run that finally got the Wolfpack off and running.
“I think we learned a lot from tonight,” Keatts said. “We had some adversity early when I thought Bryant came out, did a good job, made some shots and we got behind. I’ve been telling these guys all along that to be a great pressing team you’ve got to have some come-from-behind victories.
“Obviously we did a great job closing the hard. I thought our press was really good. We forced those guys, with four guards, into 27 turnovers with 14 steals ourselves.”
Those 27 turnovers equaled the number of field goals Bryant made on the night. It was the third time in as many games that State held its opponent to the same number or fewer field goals than turnovers.
Once State got off and rolling, the only question was how big a number it would put up.
Among the highlights was a powerful tomahawk dunk by Dorn on the way to an 11 of 14 shooting performance, 11 assists by point guard Johnson and the Wolfpack debut of Braxton Beverly.
The freshman guard made only one of his seven field goal attempts as part of an unimpressive stat line that also included two points, two steals and two rebounds in 16 minutes. But his performance was encouraging nonetheless simply because he was in uniform and able to play. He was only cleared by the NCAA two hours before tipoff.
Beverly wasn’t the only member of the Wolfpack just happy to be out on the court playing again.
After undergoing multiple surgeries on his leg and redshirting last season, Lennard Freeman has learned to appreciate even the smallest of details about playing college basketball. Especially on a night as big as Tuesday was for him.
“With me sitting out last year, everything is fun,” he said. “The bus ride here is fun, warming up is fun, everything is fun. I’m just glad to be out here, glad to be part of this team. We’re out there having fun, sharing the ball, turning people over. It’s a great experience.”