N.C. State’s Omer Yurtseven had a couple of plays Saturday against Louisville that caused a collective groan in PNC Arena, that had Wolfpackers slamming back into their seats in shock and anguish.
After making a first-half steal, the 7-foot center bricked a left-handed layup on a breakaway. Shot the ball into the bottom of the rim.
In the second half, Yurtseven was alone under the the basket for a dunk. Just a quick up-and-in. And missed again.
In close games, especially in March, those are the kind of missed opportunities that can come back to haunt a team at the end. Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts, with a smile, mentioned “State stuff” after the 76-69 victory — that feeling some Pack fans have had that their team somehow is cursed — and Yurtseven’s misses seemed more proof of it.
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But as Keatts said, “Right now we’ve been able to stuff the stuff.” Yurtseven may have missed some easy shots but he made up for it with some timely blocks down the stretch as the Pack won its final regular-season game, rebounding from a tough loss Thursday at Georgia Tech.
“It’s about keeping your head in the game,” Yurtseven said. “It’s all mental. That’s all I focus on.
“I just say, ‘I’m going to go out there and do the best I can.’ I’ll fight my fight. If God knows, I can win my war. That’s the basic mentality I had.”
That’s also been the Pack’s mentality this season. N.C. State began ACC play with blowout losses against Clemson and Notre Dame, both on the road. The Pack will go into the ACC Tournament next week in Brooklyn off five wins in their last six conference teams, with an 11-7 ACC record few would have thought possible after that tough ACC start.
The Pack has won that basketball war.
A year ago, Mark Gottfried already had been fired and was a lame-duck Wolfpack coach going into the tournament, and it was one-and-done for the Pack. Keatts, in his first year, has reenergized the program, made the players believe in themselves, taught them how to win.
“It gets you emotional to think about last year and this year,” Yurtseven said. “I, we as a team, have come a long way.”
Yurtseven has done that. The big man from Turkey has led the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks in ACC games. His 29 points — with five 3-pointers — spurred a victory over Clemson, then ranked 19th.
Keatts said after the Yurtseven misses Saturday, some coaches might have benched him. But he didn't, wouldn't.
“I’ve got to go with the guys who got us here and that guy has had a tremendous year,” Keatts said. “My assistant coaches over there were telling get him out, he’s missing shots, but I tell them he didn’t mean to miss the shots. He just missed them. So we stayed with him and give him lot of credit, he did a tremendous job on the defensive end.”
Four of Yurtseven’s five blocks were in the second half and he finished with 13 points and five rebounds, hitting three of his five 3-point shots.
“You’re going to have those nights when it seems there’s a lid on the basket,” freshman guard Braxton Beverly said. “He missed some but he made up for it defensively, made some big blocks down the stretch and really helped us seal the deal.”
The Pack believes it has sealed an NCAA tournament bid. Yurtseven, for one, said N.C. State could be a team to watch — in Brooklyn, in the NCAAs. If so, he could be a big part of it.
“It’s all about mental toughness and I think as a team we have that,” Yurtseven said. “It’s just a different feeling going in the ACC and hopefully the NCAA."