Fast-rising Wolfpack stays hot by overwhelming Florida State

NC State shot better than 50 percent for the fifth straight game Sunday while rolling to a 92-72 victory that strengthened its chances of a top four ACC finish

NC State guard Allerik Freeman splits the defense of Florida State's Terance Mann (14) and C.J. Walker during Sunday's game at PNC Arena (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

RALEIGH — It’s still too soon to say that the NC State basketball team is peaking at just the right time.

But the Wolfpack sure is trending in that direction.

Coach Kevin Keatts’ red-hot team shot 50 percent from the floor for the fifth straight game and held No. 25 Florida State without a 3-pointer Sunday on the way to a dominating 92-72 victory at PNC Arena that moved it one step closer to an NCAA bid and a top-four seeding in the upcoming ACC tournament.

The victory was State’s fourth straight, its longest conference winning streak since 2006, and represented its most complete effort of the season — at a time of year when every team strives to be playing its best.

“Guys are just clicking right now,” said junior forward Torin Dorn, one of five Wolfpack players to score in double figures. “It’s great to click at this time of year.”

Playing against a taller opponent with just as much to gain from a victory as itself, State set a tone early by attacking the basket at every opportunity.

Its first three scores came as direct result of drives to the rim before 7-footer Omer Yurtseven banked in a 3-point from the top of the circle over his 7-foot-4 Seminoles counterpart Christ Koumadje.

The fast start was a major improvement over from State’s most recent win against Boston College last Tuesday, in which the Wolfpack went scoreless for the first 6½ minutes before finally finding the range. Despite an epidemic of fouls that saw all three of its big men pick up two personals before the game was eight minutes old, the Wolfpack never let up.

It led by as many as 20 in the first half and increased the advantage to 28 — at 85-57 — before coasting home to the easy victory.

“We’ve been put in adverse situations all year, through practice and in games,” Dorn said. “It’s just showing now that we’re mentally tough and we’re able to handle situations like that.”

State (20-9, 10-6 ACC) is also showing that it has the capacity to learn from its mistakes and keep improving even though it’s already playing at a high level.

Not only did it reverse the slow start from the BC game, but it also shored up the problems it had giving up second-chance points in that same game. After giving up 20 offensive rebounds against the Eagles, the Wolfpack yielded only eight to FSU — leading to just four second-chance points.

And it did so against an opponent with two 7-footers, five other players 6-8 or taller and all of its own bigs saddled with foul trouble the entire game.

“I thought our guys played a really good game from start to finish,” said Kevin Keatts, whose team is guaranteed of a winning ACC record and can clinch a double bye into the ACC tournament quarterfinals by winning its last two regular season games. “We did a tremendous job, especially in the first half, defensively.”

State held FSU to 34.5 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes. While the Seminoles (19-9, 8-8) heated up considerably in the second half, especially around the rim, they turned the ball over 14 times and missed all 15 of their 3-point attempts.

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, continued its recent trend of sharpshooting by hitting on 13 of its 17 shots from beyond the arc. Allerik Freeman and Sam Hunt had four 3-pointers each to lead the way.

“It’s always way easier to play defense when you’re making shots,” Freeman said.

As impressive as State’s .591 percentage from long range was, it was even more amazing considering that the usually reliable Braxton Beverly went 0 for 5.

The Wolfpack finished at an even 50 percent from the floor (33 of 66) while accomplishing a feat it hasn’t done in more than two decades. The last time State made at least half of its field goal attempts in five straight ACC games was in 1986.

“I just think we’re maturing,” Keatts said after his team won for the 20th time this season and 10th against ACC competition, ensuring it of a winning conference record. “I think we’re playing better basketball because we’re passing the ball. We’re maturing and we’re getting the right guys to take the shots and we’re not forcing shots.”

Freeman, who Keatts said is playing as well as anyone in the ACC right now, led the Wolfpack with 25 points. Dorn finished with 19 while Hunt added 14 off the bench. Yurtseven was also productive with 13 points and eight rebounds in only 21 minutes while point guard Markell Johnson added 12 points and six assists for a team that was picked to finish 11th in the ACC, but has already exceeded those modest expectations.

“We dropped some games early on, even at the beginning of the conference, that we shouldn’t have,” Freeman said. “But I knew that we could get a lot better and I knew that we had what it takes to be one of the better teams in the country.”