RALEIGH — Kevin Keatts wasn’t happy with his NC State basketball team at halftime of its game against Texas Southern on Sunday.
But not because it wasn’t making shots. Or that it was trailing by three. Or even that it had allowed the opposition to dominate the glass with 13 offensive rebounds.
Rather, it was the lack of toughness the Wolfpack showed against the taller, more experienced Tigers.
“I don’t want anyone to be tougher than us,” Keatts said. “And I thought we got pushed around. We didn’t make physical blockouts and we didn’t finish our possessions.”
Keatts let his disappointment be known in the form of an impassioned halftime speech and apparently he got his point across as State roared back over the final 20 minutes to escape with a 65-57 victory at PNC Arena.
Dereon Seabron led the way with 21 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double in five games while Cam Hayes scored all 11 of his points in the second half to help the Wolfpack (4-1) overcome an uneven performance against a team that advanced a round in the NCAA Tournament last spring and was again picked to finish first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference this year.
“I thought our team found a way to win a game when our offense wasn’t necessarily wasn’t clicking,” Keatts said. “When you look at what we did on the defensive end, I was proud of our guys holding a team to 30%.
“When you have so many new pieces, a lot of times what happens when your offense isn’t going, you struggle in other areas. But we continued to defend.”
It didn’t happen right away, though.
While the Wolfpack limited the 0-5 Tigers to just 29.7% shooting in the first half, its inability to keep its aggressive opponent off the glass ended up turning many of the misses into scoring opportunities.
Texas Southern turned its 13 offensive rebounds into eight points. That combined with State’s own cold shooting — 28.6% overall, 2 of 13 from 3-point range and 10 of 16 from the free throw line — combined to put it in a 31-28 halftime hole.
Things didn’t get much better early in the second half when veteran leader Jericole Hellems picked up his fourth foul, then was slapped with a technical, sending him to the bench for the final 15:13. He finished with 10 points.
The Wolfpack trailed by as many as four at 41-37 shortly thereafter before Seabron, Hayes and Virginia transfer Casey Morsell fueled a winning comeback.
“When Cole went out, I might have stepped up a little bit offensively,” said Hayes, who did most of his damage attacking the basket, but also added a dagger of a 3-pointer that extended the Wolfpack’s lead to 64-55 with 1:54 remaining. “That’s a big part of our team.”
Another big part during the early going has been Seabron, a sleek 6-foot-7 wing who has become just as comfortable slashing to the rim and scoring through contact as he is shooting from the perimeter. In the absence of star center Manny Bates, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury, he has also become the Wolfpack’s leading rebounder.
“With us losing Manny, I knew I had to pick it up more on the boards,” Seabron said, “and be a better team leader.”
He proved to be just that in the second half. Although State was still outrebounded over the final 20 minutes, the margin was only 20-18. And only five of those 20 came on the offensive end for Texas Southern.
That’s an accomplishment, considering that the Tigers are among the nation’s best rebounding teams. Just last week, they recorded 29 offensive rebounds in a close loss to Washington.
State also heated up from the floor by shooting better than 50% in the second half, making 14 of its 27 final field goal attempts, to win a game it easily could have lost.
“I told everybody when we played Colgate it was a tough team and a lot of times as fans, you look at the team and say ‘wow, you should be killing them,’” Keatts said. “Well, Colgate had a great win on the road last night at Syracuse. Texas Southern will compete for their championship in their league. They’re older, they know how to play. It’s a good early win for us that we’ve got to build on and get better in some areas.”