The Allerik Freeman who played against Wake yesterday bore only a passing resemblance to the Allerik Freeman who had me yelling at the TV earlier this season.
This latest version was actually willing to pass to teammates, which is how he was able to score 24 points while taking only 10 shots from the floor in N.C. State’s 90-84 victory over the Deacons at Joel Coliseum.
The Allerik Freeman from back in December and January single-handedly made it impossible for me to watch N.C. State play a complete game.
I knew he was a Charlotte guy who transferred as a grad student from Baylor, but I could see no evidence that he had even bothered to introduce himself to his new teammates. I kept hearing him called Al, and I knew Allerik was his given name, but I just called him Jack – for his determination to Jack up 18 shots (and hitting four) against Tennessee, and Jack up 13 (and hitting four) against UNC Greensboro, and Jack up 19 (and hitting five) against Clemson and Jack up 16 (and hitting four) in a second run against Clemson.
I could see what he was doing to the team fabric, and fortunately for the Wolfpack, so could coach Kevin Keatts. Which, I hazard to guess, is why Freeman’s minutes were cut from 35 a game in his first five games against ACC competition to 26 over his next five.
The first time Wake played N.C. State, you may not even remember him being on the court. He logged only 17 minutes, a season low, and contributed only five points to the 72-63 Wolfpack victory.
By yesterday I could see he had clearly improved. He should improve. He’s playing solid minutes for a good coach, one able to get the most out of his talents and those around him.
Kevin Keatts is a good coach. I’ve seen enough to feel pretty safe in that assessment.
“When you are a fifth-year guy and you switch schools and you are in a new system,’’ Keatts explained yesterday, “you are probably going to force stuff early on.
“He’s learning how to trust other people.’’
The Wolfpack, a program that has spent almost as much time in the college basketball wilderness recently as Wake, is 18-9 and 8-6 in ACC play. I repeat, N.C. State is 18-9 and 8-6 in ACC play. Let it get a couple more wins – which appear imminently get-able – and the Pack will be playing in March in the NCAA Tournament.
The best Wake can say for that is it will give the Deacons another team they know well to watch, that is if they even bother to turn on the television and find the channel.
Wake, meanwhile, squandered monster performances from Bryant Crawford (29 points, six rebounds) and Doral Moore (23 points, 12 rebounds) to fall to 10-17 and 3-12 with its 13th loss in the last 16 tries. They managed to do this by allowing the Pack to hit 11 of 24 3-pointers and put 90 points up on the Joel Coliseum scoreboard.
The question on the table is, if a team fouls an opponent, and the opponent fails to cash in from the free-throw line, is that a stop?
If so, the Deacons got stops on 35 of N.C. State’s 75 possessions.
If not, the Deacons got stops on just 30 of the Packs’ sallies across midcourt.
I saw a Wolfpack team yesterday still playing for something worth playing for. And I saw a coach coaching with passion.
One more question on the table.
When is the last time you’ve heard the words Danny Manning and passion used in the same sentence?