When North Carolina won 96-89 over N.C. State at PNC Arena on Feb. 10, it looked like the Wolfpack not only missed a chance to sweep its rival but that a promising season was heading in the wrong direction.
That loss followed a dismal defensive performance in an 85-75 loss at Virginia Tech three nights earlier.
The Wolfpack had dropped back-to-back ACC games and was a break-even team in league play with damaged NCAA tournament hopes.
As it turned out, though, something good happened that day against the Tar Heels and it hasn’t stopped happening for a Wolfpack team determined to be relaxed and happy come NCAA tournament selection Sunday.
The Wolfpack, in a losing effort, shot 54.7 percent against UNC. That started a streak of five consecutive games shooting 50 percent or better that remains alive after a 92-72 drubbing of No. 25 Florida State Sunday night at PNC Arena.
After shooting an even 50 percent overall while hitting a sizzling 13 of 22 3-pointers to rout the stumbling Seminoles, N.C. State (20-9, 10-6) also haven’t lost since that day against UNC.
N.C. State has reeled off four consecutive wins, something no Wolfpack team has done in an ACC regular season since 2006.
Two coaches have been hired and fired at N.C. State in the meantime.
This is where the latest coach hired to make the Wolfpack a consistent winner has the program.
Kevin Keatts’ first season at N.C. State is one filled memorable moments, positives one after another after another.
A program accustomed to backing up big wins with head-shaking losses instead is now stringing solid performances together. N.C. State now has winning streaks of three and four games in league play.
The team plays with confidence. During this winning streak, it has consistently recognized an opponent’s vulnerability and seized upon the edge to post another win.
On Sunday night, it was 3-point shooting. Florida State didn’t make any, misfiring on 15 attempts. N.C. State hit 13 of 22.
As for N.C. State’s defense, Keatts sees growth from his team -- particularly from its big men Omer Yurtseven, Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman.
“I think our ball screen coverage has become better,” Keatts said. “We’ve really worked with Omer, Lennard and Malik as far as guarding ball screens and getting a little higher on ball screens. We’re staying on them a little longer instead of leaving our guards on an island and our guards are doing a better job of not getting stuck on screens.”
As for N.C. State’s sharp shooting from behind the 3-point line, at this point it’s safe to say this is the new normal.
Now 16 games into ACC play, N.C. State is No. 3 in the league having made 38.1 percent of its 3-pointers. Only Louisville (38.7) and Virginia (38.4) are better.
N.C. State’s effective field goal percentage, an advanced statistic compiled by Ken Pomeroy that reflects all shooting and gives extra credit for 3-pointers, is No. 4 in the ACC at 52.6 percent.
Only Duke (55 percent), Virginia Tech (54.4 percent) and Louisville (53.3 percent) are better.
“We are able to attack our man one-on-one and get into the paint,” NC State senior guard Allerik Freeman said. “Playing against any team, if you can break down anyone and get into the paint, get into the stress box, you cause help, you cause rotations and you can pretty much get any shot you want.”
N.C. State is getting any shot it wants and making the majority of them.
That’s how teams that expect to win play when the regular season winds down and tournament play beckons.
The Wolfpack has become that team right before our eyes.