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NC State’s youth, inexperience apparent in Wolfpack’s losses to Purdue, Richmond

N.C. State’s Cam Hayes (3) drives past Louisville’s Malik Williams (5) during the second half of Louisville’s 73-68 victory over N.C. State at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday Dec. 4, 2021.

N.C. State’s Cam Hayes (3) drives past Louisville’s Malik Williams (5) during the second half of Louisville’s 73-68 victory over N.C. State at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday Dec. 4, 2021.

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Richmond made no bones about it.

The Spiders, out of the Atlantic-10, had never beaten N.C. State. Historically under head coach Chris Mooney, Richmond has had success against the big boys. The Spiders are now 5-3 against the ACC in their past eight games after an 83-74 win over the Wolfpack.

Richmond didn’t deny what their advantage was in the win.

“We’re older,” Spiders forward Tyler Burton said. “We can stay poised easier than most younger teams. That was the main emphasis.”

Burton’s teammate, Grant Golden, who finished with 19 points, echoed Burton.

“We have older guys, we’ve been here,” Golden said. “We’ve seen everything. We definitely felt like we could have an advantage on them early.”

That’s been the story of the early part of the schedule for N.C. State (7-4). Kevin Keatts’ squad won’t get dramatically older overnight, either, so unless they improve by leaps and bounds in a hurry, it will continue to be the case all year.

The Spiders (7-4) start two graduates, one senior, one junior and a sophomore. Keatts doesn’t have that kind of experience and it showed, especially on the defensive end. Mooney played at Princeton, which means the backdoor cut is a big part of his offensive identity. A big part of defending that type of offense is communication on defense. Experience helps. It was the worst possible offense to face for a young N.C. State team.

“You got sophomores talking to freshmen,” Keatts said. “And freshmen talking to sophomores. It’s not always the greatest formula.”

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N.C. State’s Jericole Hellems (4) and Chase Graham (12), right, celebrate with Dereon Seabron (1) after N.C. State’s 104-100 victory over Nebraska in four overtimes at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, December 1, 2021. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

Richmond scored 46 points in the paint and knocked down seven 3-pointers. The Wolfpack didn’t have a counter for the Spiders’ post play and left two many guys wide open for good looks. Against a team that struggles defensively, the complicated Richmond offense was just a glimpse of how things can go if N.C. State doesn’t grow up fast. And it won’t get any easier once the Wolfpack opens ACC play on Dec. 29. Teams like Purdue and Richmond are unique, with their size and style of play. The Pack has seen it in back-to-back weeks and has been taken to school.

“Defensively we’re all a nightmare because of our guys being so young,” Keatts said. “We have to get smarter, we have to make the right plays. We have to grow up because our youth can’t hurt us every time.”

That youth is showing more on the defensive end.

“I don’t worry about us offensively,” Keatts said. “We’re going to be able to score against anybody. It’s hard, defensively, when you have so many new guys and young guys and obviously there are breakdowns.”

Cam Hayes and Dereon Seabron, just sophomores, are two of the older players Keatts leans on. The duo combined for 37 points, but both admitted there were breakdowns late in the game that caused them to lose.

“We just have to figure out how to close games better,” Seabron said. “How to not have those mental breakdowns on the defensive end late in the game in crutch time.”

In the last two weeks, N.C. State was never blown out, and led at some point both times. Hayes said the team keeps “giving games away” with mental lapses — another sign of the Wolfpack’s youth, but something that can’t haunt it come ACC play.

“In ACC play it’s the real thing,” Hayes said. “A couple of bad possessions and we’re going to lose the game so we have to lock in.”

Turning the ball over late, not rebounding or having a defensive breakdown, Hayes said, are the biggest “frustrations” during these last two games. When the Pack cut the Richmond lead to three, 74-71, Spiders’ guard Jacob Gilyard broke free on a, shocker, backdoor cut, for an easy layup. It was that type of breakdown Hayes and Keatts were referring to. Richmond figured out it could run its stuff when all else failed and there wasn’t much State could do about it. Not even sure they knew how. But one thing is for sure, Purdue and Richmond gave the Pack plenty of build on moving forward.

“Those are two of the veteran teams we are going to play,” Keatts said. “Two of the bigger teams we are going to play, two of the more unique teams we are going to play. But it will help us. Hopefully in a couple of weeks and we get into ACC play, EB (Ebenezer Dowuona) and Jaylon (Gibson) have experience, where they understand they can play against anybody in our league.”

Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV has covered college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central, NC State and the ACC for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.

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