In the postgame press conference, Purdue forward Trevion Williams told the media the Boilermakers had to find out what type of team they were in the second half against N.C. State.
The Wolfpack built a double-digit lead. Purdue erased it and won 82-72 in overtime. Williams, the game’s MVP with 22 points and 12 rebounds, found out a lot about his Boilermakers — the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
But what did we learn about N.C. State?
The Wolfpack (7-3) came into the contest as a huge underdog and was 6-28 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the nation. N.C. State took it to Purdue right from the whistle, leading the game up until the Boilermakers tied it up at 66 with 21 seconds left in regulation.
The Wolfpack led the game for 38:33 — all in regulation. Whatever worked during that time, the team learned they have to maintain until the final whistle.
“I feel like we had a couple of defensive breakdowns,” sophomore Dereon Seabron said. “Giving up 3’s or not being help side when they were trying to give it to the big on the block.”
The Wolfpack’s youth showed in the final six minutes or so as the more experienced Boilermakers started to click.
As Keatts pointed out, Purdue has “two of everything” showing their depth. Depth aside, N.C. State almost handed the Boilermakers their second-straight loss. It would have been the first win over a No. 1 team for Keatts and the first since 2013 for the Wolfpack.
The team will fly back to Raleigh kicking themselves for coming up short. Keatts said he’s happy with the fight of his team. This time the fight, unlike against Nebraska, didn’t equal a win. But it’s something to build on moving forward.
“We had our chances, we can play with anyone in the country,” Keatts said. “Unfortunately things didn’t go our way at the end and we’ll just leave it at that.”
Seabron drove to the basket after the game was tied at 66 and missed a layup. On a second look, it appeared that Purdue could have been whistled for goal tending. Moments later, as Cam Hayes tried to inbounds the ball for a potential game-winning shot, Zach Edey stepped over the line to defend. There was no warning, no technical and the Boilermakers survived in overtime. A young team like the Pack can’t leave it to chance, can’t even let it get that close after it was up big.
That left the door open, something that can’t happen against a veteran team.
“I thought they (Purdue) made shots,” Keatts said about the final six minutes of action. “I thought we lost 55 (Sasha Stefanovic) a couple of times, I thought he made a couple of big shots. Our guys played hard, but I thought they made some plays down the stretch that they needed to have.”
Early in the game, N.C. State made plays it needed. Freshman guard Terquavion Smith led the charge. He finished with a season-high 21 points, including 13 in the second half. Smith started the second half with a four-point play. He started the game with a triple. It’s clear the freshman wasn’t intimidated by the big stage at all. Neither were his teammates, who gave him help as State took a 13-point lead with 9:10 left.
“We were playing hard on the defensive end,” Smith said about the first half. “That was leading to easy offense.”
Smith carried the load until the veterans — Seabron, Jericole Hellems — got going in the second half. Smith’s fearlessness was contagious throughout the roster, part of the reason State looked so good in the first half.
“He was special,” Keatts said about the freshman. “He made plays, he made shots. He was active defensively and we needed him to play well. That’s a freshman in the moment, playing the No. 1 team in a neutral court game. He doesn’t know he’s not supposed to be good and that’s what makes him special.”
NO MORAL VICTORY
Keatts, nor his players, will pat themselves on the back for hanging with Purdue.
N.C. State was on the verge of doing something big, but found itself at a crossroads. The team can leave Brooklyn with a bad taste in their mouths, eager to build off this. Or, being such a young group, they can be misguided by playing the Boilermakers close, thinking they’ve arrived by having an OK showing. Keatts will have none of the latter.
“We lost the game,” Keatts said. (*1*)
N.C. State has two more games, first against Richmond, then against Wright State, before it starts conference play for good. The Pack wants to get back into the tournament. If N.C. State can bottle up the good against Purdue and translate that each night in ACC play, it will hold its own. But the team can’t have lapses like the final six minutes against the Boilermakers. Keatts will get back to Raleigh and study the film from Purdue. The good, the bad, the ugly and move on.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Keatts said. “We have to learn the things we need to work on. I thought our team did some good stuff at the end, we just got a little careless with a couple of turnovers.”
Keatts said it wasn’t tough to look his guys in the eye after the game, because they fought so hard.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Keatts added. “Purdue is going to win a lot of games, they may even win the championship and we did a great job, we went toe-to-toe. If you watched the game, you’ll say ‘N.C. State basketball is going to be just fine.’”