Lock­ett ready, will­ing when Wolf­pack needed him most

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY CHIP ALEXAN­DER calexan­[email protected]­sob­server.com

N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts re­ceived a sur­pris­ing text after the Wolf­pack’s loss to North Carolina at PNC Arena.

Eric Lock­ett, who had not played in the game, was at the Dail Bas­ket­ball Cen­ter on cam­pus, Keatts was told. He was shoot­ing, work­ing on his game. After mid­night.

“He could have eas­ily went back and went out that night and par­tied, not happy with what hap­pened,” Keatts said. “He didn’t do that. He never com­plained. The next time we went back in the gym he smiled and he worked hard.

“He’s a ma­ture young man, he’s a guy who has grad­u­ated and is work­ing on his master’s and lot of our guys can learn a lot from that.”

And from how Lock­ett re­sponded Satur­day against Pitt when Keatts called his name.

After cen­ter Wy­att Walker was ejected two min­utes into the game, the Pack was miss­ing a re­bounder. Things turned even worse for No. 15 N.C. State when point guard Markell John­son, who does so many things for the Pack, took a hard fall at­tempt­ing to block a shot and had to leave the game in the first half.

The num­bers game at that point for the Pack: five play­ers on the floor, three on the bench. To beat the Pan­thers, a young, hun­gry team un­der first-year coach Jeff Capel, the Wolf­pack needed a lit­tle more from ev­ery­body.

Lock­ett gave his team 17 points, play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in the Pack’s 86-80 vic­tory. He hit six of nine shots from the field, mak­ing three of four 3-point­ers. He had seven re­bounds and two as­sists, mak­ing the most of his 22 min­utes.

“I know I can play at this level, and I’ll al­ways be ready,” Lock­ett said.

After Pitt took a 58-53 lead in the sec­ond half, feel­ing it, seem­ingly gain­ing con­fi­dence with each pass­ing minute, it was Lock­ett who drove the lane for a bas­ket. And big­ger things were ahead.

With the Pan­thers ahead

61-57, Lock­ett drained a 3-pointer. After the Pan­thers missed a 3, Lock­ett did it again. Swish, swish.

Lock­ett hit two free throws after an of­fen­sive re­bound. He fed Torin Dorn for a 3-pointer. The Pack sud­denly was the team feel­ing it, sens­ing vic­tory.

“He didn’t play the last two games, in the con­fer­ence, and to come in and save us, re­ally, with 17 points and two back-to­backs 3s late in the game, that’s beau­ti­ful for me,” the Pack’s D.J. Fun­der­burk said. “Me per­son­ally, I’d have had my head down com­ing into this game. He showed some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

In truth, Lock­ett did play six min­utes in State’s ACC opener, the 87-82 win against Mi­ami. But they were a quiet six min­utes: no points, two missed shots.

There was noth­ing quiet about Lock­ett’s game Satur­day. Nor Fun­der­burk’s, for that mat­ter.

Fun­der­burk filled up the stat sheet – 18 points, nine re­bounds, four blocked shots. Six of his of­fen­sive re­bounds were on the of­fen­sive boards, giv­ing the Pack an­other look, an­other chance. And all on ef­fort plays.

“We knew they were a scrappy bunch,” Fun­der­burk said of the Pan­thers. “We just tried to put that aside and play smart and play strong at the same time.”

The Pack did that, get­ting 19 points from Devon Daniels, a dou­ble-dou­ble from Dorn (12 points, 10 re­bounds) and con­tri­bu­tions from all eight.

“But no­body played big­ger than the guy who didn’t play the last game, Eric Lock­ett,” Keatts said.

Lock­ett is a 6-5 grad­u­ate trans­fer from Flor­ida In­ter­na­tional who scored a ca­reer-high 30 points nearly a year ago against Char­lotte. He came to N.C. State with no guar­an­tees other than Keatts would be tough but fair.

Lock­ett did not play in the Wolf­pack’s big­gest vic­tory of the sea­son, the 78-71 win over No. 7 Auburn on Dec. 19. In his next game, given 26 min­utes, he had 15 points against USC Up­state.

That was his sea­son high – then. Now, he has a new one.

“It just hap­pened,” Lock­ett said. “After ‘Kel’ went down and ‘Wy’ was out, peo­ple were go­ing to have to step up and fill their roles. We banded to­gether and got it done.”

ETHAN HY­MAN ehy­[email protected]­sob­server.com

N.C. State’s Eric Lock­ett cel­e­brates after mak­ing a 3-point bas­ket dur­ing the sec­ond half of the Wolf­pack’s 86-80 vic­tory over Pitts­burgh on Satur­day at PNC Arena in Raleigh. Lock­ett scored 17 points off the bench for the Pack.

ETHAN HY­MAN ehy­[email protected]­sob­server.com

N.C. State's Devon Daniels keeps the ball from Pitts­burgh's Trey McGowens dur­ing the sec­ond half of N.C. State's 86-80 vic­tory over Pitts­burgh in Raleigh on Satur­day.

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