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Growth of young NC State team was on display as Wolfpack outlasted Nebraska in 4 OTs

·5 min read

Dereon Seabron isn’t old enough to know who Willis Reed is.

Kevin Keatts is and he was one happy coach when he saw Seabron walking back towards the bench from the tunnel area.

Seabron went down with a knee injury, laying on the floor in front of the N.C. State bench for minutes before getting up and limping to the locker room.

He was the Wolfpack offense up until that point. If he was done for the night, so was the Pack. But moments later, Seabron came back. His career night — 39 points, 18 rebounds — were the driving factor behind N.C. State’s 104-100 win over Nebraska in four overtimes. It was the longest game in Wolfpack history. Seabron’s 39 points were the most scored in the history of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

He was the main attraction, but N.C. State got its sixth win of the season not just because of Seabron, but from an entire cast of characters who played a part in the battle.

“This was a great character win, it was a toughness win,” Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts said. “It was what N.C. State is all about.”

Keatts lost his voice during the game, well expected after coaching for 80 minutes. But his instructions from the sideline got every ounce he needed from his players. The Wolfpack trailed most of the second half, taking the lead in the final two minutes. It never led in the second overtime, led twice in the third and started the fourth with a triple from freshman Terquavion Smith. N.C. State never looked back after that.

The 3-pointer by Smith was just his third made basket of the night, but it was one the Pack needed at the moment. It didn’t matter that he was having an off night shooting night, missed two free throws in regulation that would have put N.C. State up three or had a foul on Bryce McGowens that sent the game into a third overtime. Smith had the mental toughness to take that first three in the final period to spark the Wolfpack.

Breon Pass scored a layup that put N.C. State up one in the third overtime. Pass was on the floor because Cam Hayes was ejected, Casey Morsell got injured and Jericole Hellems fouled out. Keatts was forced to finish the game with “babies.”

“The guys who came into the game, everybody contributed in a positive way,” Keatts said. “I thought they did a tremendous job finishing the game. I’m super proud of these guys, their fight is unbelievable.”

Even when N.C. State (6-1) was down double-digits to the Cornhuskers (5-3), Keatts could see a look in his team’s eyes during timeouts. They never doubted for one second that this one was over. Not with a guy like Seabron, perhaps the surprise player in the ACC this season, leading the way. Coming off a season-low 10 points against Louisiana Tech, Seabron responded in a major way, slashing and dashing his way to the basket to connect on 11 of 22 field goals and 17 of 20 free throws.

At one point Seabron, a sophomore, was encouraging his guys on the court. He was on the floor with Smith, Pass, Ebenezer Dowuona and Thomas Allen, who didn’t play until the overtime periods. Seabron was suddenly the old guy on the floor leading the way.

“Actually when we were out there on the court I wasn’t even paying attention to that,” Seabron said. “At that point and time I was like the vet out there, so I was trying to be more vocal and be a better teammate and bring my young guys along.”

Dowuona is one of those young guys. He still has a long way to go on offense — he didn’t take his first shot attempt until the second overtime — but his defense is improving. He finished with a career-high eight blocks and added seven rebounds. After Nebraska constantly attacked the rim in the first half, Dowuona swatted five blocks in the second half. It’s been a tall task early, asking the sophomore to fill in for Manny Bates, but after a seven block performance on Saturday and eight on Wednesday, Dowuona is growing into his defensive role with every passing minute.

“Right now I’m just focused on my role as a big and getting better every day,” Dowuona said. “I take pride in defense.”

Keatts added, “That’s two games in a row where you can see he’s getting better. I think his confidence is starting to grow.”

Keatts took pride in his team never giving up. He knows this performance is one to grow on, especially with ACC play coming up against Louisville on Saturday. N.C. State has done well in ACC openers under Keatts (4-1).

The Cardinals (5-2) are coming off a 73-64 loss at Michigan State. Between injuries and youth, not many know what to expect from the Wolfpack once conference play starts. But fans probably learned a lot more about this team during their four overtime win.

“It can definitely boost our confidence and it shows Coach Keatts that we’ll never quit,” Seabron said. “We’ll keep fighting until the clock says zero. It’s good for us.”

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