N.C. State defeats Pitt 77-73 behind Hellems’ surge
Reserve forward Jericole Hellems scored 16 points and sparked a second-half comeback to give N.C. State’s NCAA Tournament hopes a boost in a 77-73 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
With N.C. State trailing 58-51, Hellems scored nine points in three minutes, including a 3-pointer from the baseline with 6:53 remaining that gave the Wolfpack its first lead of the game. Hellems also sprinted down the floor for a layup and a tip-in and scored on a 15-foot jumper during his personal scoring binge.
Pitt briefly regained the lead with two Eric Hamilton free throws, but the Wolfpack scored the next eight points to grab a 70-63 lead and held on to win.
Hellems and C.J. Bryce each scored 16 points to lead four Wolfpack players in double figures. D.J. Funderburk added 14, Manny Bates a career-high 13, and Markell Johnson contributed nine points and six assists for the Wolfpack.
Au’Diese Toney scored 24 points to lead the Panthers, while Xavier Johnson added 13 points and Justin Champagnie and Hamilton had 10 apiece.
The Wolfpack (18-11, 9-9 ACC), which had lost three of its last four games, managed to even its conference record with the win. Pitt (15-15, 6-13) suffered its sixth straight loss as its overall record fell to .500.
Pitt never trailed in the first half as Xavier Johnson made both of his 3-point attempts and drove for an emphatic dunk en route to 10 points in 19 minutes. The Panthers started to pull away when an 8-1 run capped by a Johnson 15-footer extended their lead to 25-18 with 7:18 left in the half.
But Bryce answered with a mid-range jumper of his own and a 3-pointer, and Johnson drove the left side of the lane for a layup to tie the score at 25-25. Pitt led 31-30 at halftime as nine points by Bryce and eight by Bates helped N.C. State almost keep pace with an opponent that has been stingy on defense for much of the season but has struggled to score. The Panthers led even though they didn’t make a field goal in the last 5:17 of the first half.
N.C. State appeared poised to take its first lead of the game with 14:07 remaining when Funderburk completed a three-point play with the Panthers leading 44-40 when Champagnie was called for a technical foul for pushing Hellems.
But Braxton Beverly missed both technical free throws and then a 17-footer with the Wolfpack trailing by one. Later, Pitt extended its lead to 58-51 after Toney rebounded a Champagnie miss and laid the ball in the basket with 10:14 remaining.
Hellems made his mark after that to help the Wolfpack come from behind.
Pitt: The Panthers demonstrated that they hadn’t lost their fight even though they hadn’t won since Feb. 8. But as has often been the case, they struggled to make shots down the stretch after playing well for most of the game.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack’s fight for an NCAA Tournament bid would have gotten much tougher if it had been defeated by an opponent that had lost five in a row. To get into the tournament, you need to win the games you are supposed to win and get a few victories that people weren’t expecting over highly regarded opponents. Monday’s game against Duke, which N.C. State defeated 88-66 on Feb. 19, is another opportunity for a win that will turn some heads.
Pitt: Plays at Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
N.C. State: Visits Duke on Monday.