Late-starting Wolfpack finds its rhythm to earn win No. 19

After missing its first eight shots, the Wolfpack made 14 straight in rolling to an 82-66 win against Boston College on Tuesday

NC State's Sam Hunt (15) is greeted by teammates after hitting one of his four 3-pointers during Tuesday's win against Boston College at PNC Arena. (Rob Kinnan / USA TODAY Sports)

RALEIGH — The NC State basketball team started Tuesday’s game against Boston College looking as if it might never score. Then, seemingly without rhyme or reason, it appeared as though the Wolfpack might never miss another shot.

Coach Kevin Keatts’ team rebounded from a dreadful start in which it missed its first eight shots by making its next 13 straight and 17 of the final 19 it attempted in the first half on its way to an 82-66 victory at PNC Arena that strengthened its rapidly improving NCAA tournament resume.

“It was just a matter of finding our rhythm,” said graduate guard Sam Hunt, whose 3-point shooting off the bench helped kickstart State’s offense. “We started out sluggish and slow, so we just had to get going. Once we found our rhythm we were fine.”

Not only did the Wolfpack go 0 for its first 8 from the floor, it also turned the ball over on four of its first five possessions and six times before it finally put the ball in the basket. Things were going so bad during those scoreless opening 6½ minutes that Keatts joked that he considered getting up and leaving.

Abdul-Malik Abu finally broke the ice with a free throw at the 13:39 mark.

Fortunately for State (19-9, 9-6 ACC), its opponent wasn’t playing much better during that opening stretch. The Eagles only scored six points during the Wolfpack’s early drought, leaving the door wide open for a quick comeback once it started finding its range.

“It’s weird,” Keatts said afterward. “We came out and for whatever reason, didn’t make shots early and I was OK with it because they only had six points. I know everybody started panicking, but my deal was keep defending.”

The Wolfpack did just that, holding BC to just 30 percent shooting in the first half and 4 of 25 from 3-point range for the game. That defense was especially tough on Raleigh native Jerome Robinson, who went 4 of 20, missed all six of his 3-pointers and both of his free throws in what could be his final college game in his home state.

Eventually, State’s offense began to catch up with its defensive effort.

Torin Dorn made the first field goal on a rebound of his own miss with 12:45 left in the half. Braxton Beverly followed with a 3-pointer in transition, then Hunt followed suit with a long jumper of his own and just like that, the Wolfpack was in the lead.

But that was only the beginning. With Beverly and Hunt bombing from beyond the arc and Omer Yurtseven doing damage inside, State ran off a 16-2 spurt that broke the game open. It wasn’t until Allerik Freeman stubbed a layup with 4:39 remaining in the half that the Wolfpack missed another shot.

Beverly ended up making all five of his first half 3-pointers while Hunt went 3 for 3 from long range, as State’s lead ballooned to 20 at 44-24 just before the break.

“I don’t know what it was, but we got going,” said senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu. “We just needed to score one. It was one of those things where we needed to see one go in the hoop.

“It gets contagious and everybody starts to score. When you play for each other and have fun, that’s usually the outcome.”

Freeman led the Wolfpack with 20 points while Beverly finished with 16. Hunt and Dorn added 12 each. Markell Johnson, despite scoring only one point and committing seven turnovers, still managed to contribute with eight assists.

State finished with 11 of 21 from 3-point range and while it suffered through a few lapses in the second half, always seemed able to turn the effort back up every time BC tried to make a run.

The Eagles (16-12, 6-9) got as close as eight with 3:13 remaining, with Havelock native Ky Bowman leading the way with 21 points. But BC didn’t score again, while Freeman accounted for six of his team’s final seven points to seal the deal.

In doing so, the Wolfpack clinched no worse than a .500 conference record and moved within a victory of the 20-win mark for the first time in three seasons. Its nine ACC victories match the number it achieved in the past two years combined.

As much as State has accomplished thus far, Beverly said that he and his teammates aren’t close to being through as they look to play themselves off the NCAA tournament bubble and solidly into the 68-team field.

“We’re going to try to make some noise in the tournament,” Beverly said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing right now, keep getting these wins, and we’ll be fine.”