The NC State basketball team was running out of options as it battled Nebraska through multiple overtimes on Dec. 1.
With Cam Hayes having been ejected for his part in a second half altercation, Casey Morsell sidelined with an ankle injury at the end of regulation and Jericole Hellems having fouled out early in the third extra period, Dereon Seabron took it upon himself to pull his team through.
Forced into the role of primary ballhandler, the versatile 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore began attacking the basket on virtually every possession, challenging the Cornhuskers to stop him.
And they rarely did.
“I felt like no one on the court could stop me from getting to the rim,” he said.
Seabron torched Nebraska for 39 points and 18 rebounds that night to lead the Wolfpack to a 104-100 four-overtime victory.
But the Cornhuskers shouldn’t feel too bad about their inability to stop him. No one has this season.
The unexpected star has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary season for State. Seabron leads the team and ranks among the ACC’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals while establishing himself as a legitimate conference Player of the Year candidate.
It’s a status no one, not even Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts, saw coming from a player that averaged just 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season.
“To be honest with you, the expectation was (for him) to grow as a sophomore,” Keatts said of Seabron. “I really thought he could be a guy that could probably jump from five points a game to possibly 12 and give us somewhere around six or seven rebounds a game.
“But he’s done a ton of a terrific job for us this year, and he’s put a lot of work in. Of anybody that I’ve ever coached, he’s a guy that plays to his strengths. He knows who he is and doesn’t do anything out of the box.”
Seabron gave a glimpse of things to come late last season when, as was the case against Nebraska, he was thrust into an expanded role.
Seeing his playing time increase significantly after State’s leading scorer Devon Daniels was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury, Seabron was one of the driving forces that helped the Wolfpack win its final five games and earn a bid to play in the NIT.
His 17-point, 13-rebound, three-block performance in a win at Notre Dame in the regular season finale helped earn him ACC Freshman of the Week honors.
“I knew what I was capable of doing, but I had to wait my turn,” said Seabron, who sat out his true freshman year as an academic redshirt. “I was playing behind a senior in Devon Daniels, so when he got hurt, I knew I had to step up. I had the opportunity to show people how I do it.”
He got even more of an opportunity than expected this season when star center Manny Bates was lost to a shoulder injury less than a minute into the opening game against Bucknell.
And he’s taken full advantage of the added responsibility by posting nine double-doubles, the most of any guard in the country, while averaging 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
It’s a transformation, according to Keatts, that has come from a combination of a productive offseason in the weight room and the confidence that comes with being his team’s primary offensive option.
“He believes,” Keatts said. “Last year he was getting some of those same shots, but he wasn’t finishing. He was creating shots at the rim and shot some scoop shots underneath the rim, and now you see that he’s playing through contact and getting to the free-throw line just as much as anybody in the country.”
In fact, his 107 attempts through 16 games rank fourth among Division I players nationally.
While getting to the rim and either scoring or getting fouled has become Seabron’s specialty, it is far from his only strength. He is also, in the words of Virginia Tech coach Mike Young, “a better shooter than he thinks he is.”
And three games ago against Florida State, the former high school point guard added another line to his resume when he became the Wolfpack’s primary ballhandler, a move that was designed to help shake State out of a skid that has dropped it to 8-8 overall and 1-4 in the ACC.
“As a coach, you look for different things and a different spark,” Keatts said. “We put the ball in his hand and he was making plays. Early in the year, he wasn’t making plays for others. He was scoring for himself.
“We talked about it with him. He and I sat down and watched film. We communicated with him and coaches worked with him. He became a willing passer.”
Among those that have benefited most from the move has been freshman sharpshooter Terquavion Smith, who has gotten more open looks as a result of Seabron’s driving ability.
But when the situation gets tight, Seabron usually takes matters into his own hands. He has averaged 17.3 points per game in the second half of the Wolfpack’s past three games and accounted for 44.8% of his team’s scoring over the final 20 minutes of those contests.
“He’s a challenge in this league for any team that plays him,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “He can single-handedly change a game with how explosive he is.”