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Allerik Freeman was 34-of-111 from 3-point range entering Saturday’s game at then No. 10-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Once a starter, Freeman has been relegated to the bench for three straight contests and ,when things went wrong for his team, he was often a source of consternation for Wolfpack fans.
Then it happened and now the narrative has changed.
Freeman did more than guide N.C. State past North Carolina, 95-91 in overtime, in a big road victory Saturday. He entered Atlantic Coast Conference lore.
With the Wolfpack gashing the Tar Heel defense on pick-and-roll action, Freeman was the perfect spot-up shooter for N.C. State’s penetrating guards to kick the ball out to.
Freeman was 7-of-7 from 3-point range against the Tar Heels. It was the most 3-point shots made without a miss in the nearly 30-year history of the Smith Center.
It was a welcome contrast for the Wolfpack. Freeman has made a total of eight 3-pointers (in 27 attempts) in N.C. State’s first four ACC road games this season.
The outburst in Chapel Hill, coupled with Freeman’s 13-point effort at Pittsburgh in which he made big plays late to help N.C. State rally to victory days earlier, led him to be named ACC Player of the Week.
Prior to the Wolfpack’s last home game, a loss to Miami, Freeman was removed from the starting lineup in favor of Markell Johnson. He did not make a production out of the benching and is still getting “starter’s minutes.” After his struggles for most of the first half of the season, the graduate-student transfer from Baylor might have found his niche.
“As far as him coming off the bench, it was more just so he could see the game,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said. “Obviously, to relax a little bit. He is playing and he is playing starter’s minutes.”
“What a great game when you think about he was not shooting the ball well,” Keatts added. “To be in the Dean Dome and go 7-for-7 from 3s and to make some big shots — you think back to the Pittsburgh game on Wednesday night, even though he wasn’t playing well in the first half and some of the second half he made a huge 3 and then he went to the free-throw line and made two big free throws. Hopefully this gets him going.”
Whether it is coming off the bench or starting, Freeman has little in the way of worries. He just wants to compete.
“Coach Keatts is a great coach,” Freeman said. “That is the reason why I came here. I just go out there and enjoy it. This is my last year in college so it was fun being out there. I have never played at (UNC) before. ... It was great.”
The move to the bench was to make way for the return of Johnson, who has reached double-figures in assists in each of the three games he has started and finished with 20 points and 11 assists in the win at UNC.
The sophomore guard has also dealt with issues that cut into his playing time, albeit off the court. He can relate to Freeman’s plight and is thrilled with his epic performance against the Tar Heels.
“I am very proud of Al Freeman,” Johnson said. “I am happy for him too. He killed it. He definitely went out there and played.”
Johnson often found Freeman outside after penetration led the North Carolina defense to collapse. The Tar Heels seemingly had no answer for N.C. State’s pick-and-roll and it allowed the Charlotte native to play within his game instead of trying to create on his own.
“I think one of the reasons he is starting to play basketball a lot better is because we have got Markell Johnson back into the lineup with the responsibility of him handling the ball,” Keatts noted. “We have kind of taken some of that away from him. He can just be able to play off the ball and score the basketball.”
Suddenly the guy that took the blame when things went wrong is now a hero. N.C. State fans and local media will not soon forget Allerik Freeman.
He was not too concerned with the angst before, however; he also doesn’t worry about what the pundits are saying.
“I don’t know,” Freeman laughing said when asked if it was one of the great efforts in N.C. State history. “I will leave that to (the media) and others.”
SIGNING DAY NEARS
National Signing Day is next Wednesday, Feb. 7, and while the N.C. State football team has only a couple of scholarships left on the table, expect more movement from the Wolfpack in the coming days.
N.C. State has offered junior college defensive tackle Val Martin, who played for Iowa Western and currently holds offers from West Virginia, Washington State, Florida Atlantic, Buffalo, New Mexico and Ohio. The offer from N.C. State came early Tuesday.
After an initial contact with the Wolfpack brass to gauge interest did not pan out, Martin heard back from N.C. State while being on an official visit elsewhere.
“(Defensive line) Coach [Kevin] Patrick reached back out to me last weekend when I was on my Washington State visit,” he said. “He told me that they wanted to take another defensive lineman, and they want it to be a junior college kid so that where I came in.”
You can expect a decision soon from Martin.
“My recruitment is still going but Signing Day is next week,” Martin said. “I will sign on Signing Day. I plan on going home after this weekend and I’ll have my decision made up soon after I get back home.”