Second-half surge helps Wolfpack get back on right track

NC State bounces back from a loss to Louisville and warms up for a date with top-ranked Purdue with a 65-48 win against Bethune-Cookman

NC State's Jaylon Gibson battles Bethune-Cookman's Dylan Robertson for a rebound during Thursday's game at Reynolds Coliseum. (Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — Coming off a close loss against Louisville on Saturday with a date against top-ranked Purdue coming up next, NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts wasn’t about to get caught up in aesthetics.

So even though Thursday’s 65-48 win against Bethune-Cookman was hardly a thing of beauty, it was exactly what Keatts and his Wolfpack needed.

“In this program we talk about when you lose a game, we’re sick,” Keatts said after the victory on Heritage Night at Reynolds Coliseum. “So we wanted to get well …  coming back, getting a win and getting back on the right track.”

State (7-2) was never in danger of losing the game against its outmanned opponent. It jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead and never trailed. But it also had trouble putting the 1-8 Wildcats away — thanks in part to Keatts’ lineup tinkering and some balky shooting.

The Wolfpack shot 36.2% from the floor and made only seven of its 23 3-point attempts, numbers for which Cam Hayes (1-10, 0-3), Thomas Allen (1-5, 1-3) and Breon Pass (1-5, 1-4) contributed greatly.

Despite leading by as many as 10 twice in the opening period, State’s advantage was just 34-29 at the break.

While the offense was only marginally better in the second half, State picked up its intensity on the defensive end during the final 20 minutes — limiting Bethune-Cookman to 19 points, forcing nine turnovers and holding the Wildcats without a 3-point basket. 

Joe French led Bethune-Cookman with 14 points, all but two of which came in the first half.

“We just wanted to get back in the win column and then come out and make a statement against teams we know we’re supposed to beat,” said forward Dereon Seabron, who posted team-leading totals of 16 points and 14 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.

“I feel like we played better in the second half. The first half we were a little sloppy and we blew a couple of defensive assignments, but in the second half we picked up and finished the game out well.”

Seabron, as he has been all season, was a bright spot for the Wolfpack. But he wasn’t the only one.

Second-year freshman Ebenezer Dowuona continued his growth as State’s main inside presence, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, pulling down eight rebounds and blocking four shots.

Freshman guard Terquavion Smith, starting for the second straight game in place of the injured Casey Morsell, also stood out by scoring 14 points and making three 3-pointers while continuing to grow in confidence.

“I feed off my teammates and play my own game,” Smith said. “I’m adjusting to the college game. For me, it’s nothing but up from here.”

Jericole Hellems was the only other State player in double figures with 13 points, to go along with four assists and four steals.