North Carolina State entered Tuesday night’s game against Boston College men’s basketball having shot over 50 percent from the floor in each of its past three games. Yet over the course of the opening six minutes and 21 seconds, the Wolfpack hardly looked the part. Head coach Kevin Keatts’ team missed all eight of its shots and turned the ball over six times during that span. Luckily for N.C. State, the Eagles weren’t lighting up the box score either. In fact, if the Wolfpack wasn’t so careless with the ball in the early going, there’s no guarantee BC would have scored either.
All it took was one Luka Kraljevic foul and Abdul-Malik Abu free throw to get not only the PNC Arena crowd, but also the entire N.C. State team back in the game. In just 60 seconds, the Wolfpack turned a five-point deficit into a one-point lead, in large part thanks to back-to-back Braxton Beverly and Sam Hunt 3-pointers. Just like that, the tide had turned—N.C. State proceeded to hit 10 more shots in a row and close out the half shooting 14-of-16, including 7-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Ky Bowman had his way with the Wolfpack defense, racking up a team-high 21 points. His fellow North Carolinian teammate, Jerome Robinson didn’t have the same luck. Days after appearing on The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie’s newest 2018 NBA Mock Draft and hours following The News & Observer’s Joe Giglio’s tweet that Robinson will go through the upcoming pre-draft process, the junior failed to eclipse the 25-point mark for the first time in five games and double-digits for the first time in ACC play this season. When all was said and done, N.C. State finished with 11 triples, becoming the fifth-consecutive Eagles opponent to log 10 or more 3-pointers, en route to a resounding 82-66 win—one that inches the Wolfpack one step closer to a potential double-bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament.
One year removed from out dueling former N.C. State and now-Dallas Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith Jr., Bowman—who always ups his game when playing a team from the Triangle—looked poised for another highlight-reel performance against the Wolfpack (19-9, 9-6 Atlantic Coast). In the opening minute, he caught Torin Dorn trying to swing the ball around the perimeter, jumped the pass, and sprinted down the court for an emphatic one-handed dunk. A couple minutes later, the sophomore was back at it again. Once again picking off a pass behind the 3-point line, Bowman pushed the ball up the floor. This time, he dished the rock to Jordan Chatman. But it was all a setup—right on cue, the junior gave it right back to a cutting Bowman for the layup.
Although BC (16-12, 6-9) stumbled out of the gates, going just 3-of-12 from the field, the two aforementioned guards built a 6-0 lead. Ball security haunted the Wolfpack, costing N.C. State a number of possessions. Yet nothing matched its putrid shooting performance. A media timeout and an additional minute and a half transpired before Abu ended the dry spell at the charity stripe. The senior only made 1-of-2 at the line, but that’s all he needed to snap back N.C. State into gear. All of a sudden, the Wolfpack couldn’t miss a shot, contested or not.
Led by Beverly and Hunt, who were a combined 8-of-8 from 3-point land in the opening frame, N.C. State ran up and down the court, often catching BC sleeping in transition. By the time either Beverly, Hunt, and even Allerick Freeman teed up a long ball, the Eagles frequently found themselves scrambling just to get a hand in the shooter’s’ face. When the Wolfpack wasn’t jacking up outside shots, it was getting center Omer Yurtseven looks inside. On occasion, the 7-footer owned the key, toying with Nik Popovic.
To make matters worse for BC, it had to play seven minutes of the period without Robinson, the Eagles’ and perhaps the conference’s best player. Approaching the halfway point of the frame, the ACC Player of the Year Candidate, who was just 1-of-8 at the time, used his left to curl around the top of the arc and position himself for a one-way trip to the rack. But as soon as he scooted by Freeman, he was met by Yurtseven in the paint.
Adjusting mid-air, Robinson attempted to lay the ball up and over the big man, like he’s wont to do—instead, the Wolfpack center blocked the shot, and Robinson hit the floor. He tried to use his left arm to brace his fall, but ended up landing right on his elbow, causing excruciating pain. The junior rolled around on the court until the medical staff came out to help him off the hardwood. He was evaluated both on the bench and in the locker room and eventually made his return to the game, with a bit less than three and a half minutes left in the half. At that point, though, his team was already down 14. Robinson only took one shot in the waning minutes of the period—a 3-pointer that rattled out of the rim. Bowman and Chatman did their best to keep the game competitive, but N.C. State walked to the locker room with a 44-28 halftime lead and all the momentum in the world.
BC, a team that averaged more 3-pointers in conference play than anyone else in the ACC coming into the game, shot just 2-of-17 from the perimeter in the first half. Rather than continuing to toss up long-range field goal attempts, the Eagles attacked the interior in the back half of play. Popovic held his own down low, but Steffon Mitchell was on another level. Playing as if his life was on the line, the freshman followed up a scoreless first half with 10 much-needed points and 11 rebounds—six of which came on the offensive glass—in the second period. To put his 20-minute stat line in perspective, the freshman had combined for just four points and 10 rebounds in the past two games combined.
Mitchell did his part, but Robinson, injury and all, looked out of sorts. Shooting just 4-of-20 on the night, the 6-foot-5 combo guard mustered a mere eight points—two of which came when he posted up on the 6-foot Beverly in the paint. His jump shot was off, but then again, so was every Eagles’—BC shot just 38.2 percent from the field and only scored 14 points outside of the paint. Even getting shots to fall at the charity stripe was an ordeal. Prior to Tuesday night, the Eagles were the ACC’s best free throw shooting team in league play. Not anymore—BC shot a horrific 4-of-12 from the line, shooting itself in the foot, time and time again.
On multiple occasions, the Eagles flirted with a single-digit deficit in the latter portion of play. They came closest to making a move with four minutes and change remaining on the clock. Already on a 6-1 run, Bowman pushed the pace, infiltrated the N.C. State arc, pivoted, and located Chatman behind the 3-point line for a wide-open triple, bringing BC within eight of the Wolfpack. Unfortunately for Christian and Co., BC wouldn’t score again. In due time, Freeman orchestrated a self-made 7-0 run, putting the game to bed.
If the Eagles had just gotten a few 3-pointers to fall in the opening minutes, they could very well have blown this one out of the water in the first half. Instead, they’re staring at a two-game losing streak and a harsh reality: BC’s only shot to warrant attention on Selection Sunday is if it wins the rest of its regular season games.
Featured Image by Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP Photo