N.C. State and Pittsburgh went down to the wire when the teams met earlier this month. Why would anyone expect the rematch to be any different?
Meeting for the second time in 11 days, the Wolfpack (12-9, 8-8) and Panthers gave the 500 fans inside PNC Arena their money’s worth. It was N.C. State being money from the line and on defense when it counted the most that led to the 65-62 win.
“It was great,” Braxton Beverly said about playing in front of fans for the first time. “It felt so loud. That gave us a little edge.”
Despite not being able to hit the broadside of a barn from the field, N.C. State got enough timely field goals from D.J. Funderburk and blocks on defense from Manny Bates, the two bigs who missed most of the first half in foul trouble.
With the Panthers closing in on the lead, Bates had blocks on consecutive possessions to turn away Pittsburgh. The Panthers (9-10, 5-9) pulled to within three, 56-53, after a layup from Terrell Brown, but went without a field goal for the next five minutes.
N.C. State, who had their own struggles shooting, got a layup from Jericole Hellems and another from Bates to push the lead to five.
“It was a grind it out game,” Pack head coach Kevin Keatts said. “I think we are getting better defensively.”
Pitt’s Nike Sibande missed a pair of freebies with less than one minute remaining, trailing by four. Wolfpack freshman Cam Hayes knocked down a pair on the other end, pushing the lead to six. It was a flashback to the previous meeting when Hayes hit two from the line to seal the one-point win.
Take what’s free
Free throws are the reason the Pack controlled the game. N.C. State connected on a season-low 18 field goals, but shot 70 percent from the line. The Panthers missed four straight from the line, which kept them from closing the gap, despite shooting 44 percent from the floor in the second half.
Hellems led N.C. State with 15 points. Beverly finished with 14 off the bench. Funderburk added 13 and Bates had 10.
The win was N.C. State’s 12th in a row over the Panthers. More importantly, it was the fourth consecutive ACC win for the Pack, the first time they’ve won four straight league games since 2018.
“Right now I think we are playing pretty good basketball,” Hellems said. “As of right now we are better as a team and trying to get better everyday.”
Beverly said the team is playing with more confidence.
“It really comes from practice,” Beverly told the media. “It’s really starting to show. It’s all coming together at a good time.”