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It is hard to integrate into a college basketball program in most circumstances. Doing so as a grad transfer is complicated and typically has time constraints.
With eligibility remaining usually at a minimum and the season moving at a brisk pace, if an incoming transfer does not get acclimated quickly, the season — along with his team’s prospects — can be a lost cause.
N.C. State had two grad transfers that first-year head coach Kevin Keatts hoped would bridge the gap until he had an entire offseason to recruit players that fit his system. It has been an interesting journey with ups and downs, but the duo has come through lately when Keatts and the Wolfpack needed them most.
Allerik Freeman and Sam Hunt have spurred a run of late that has led N.C. State on the cusp of a 20-win season and the opportunity for much more.
Freeman scored 20 points, including 15 in the second half where his isolation play on offense caused significant problems, to lead the Wolfpack to a, 82-66, win over Boston College on Tuesday in PNC Arena.
Things started poorly for the Pack, which went the first seven minutes of the game without a field goal. But once the first shot fell, N.C. State could not stop connecting.
Spurred by precise 3-point shooting from Hunt, the Wolfpack made 13 consecutive shots, and the final 17 of 19 in the first half, to pull away to a 44-28 lead at halftime.
Hunt drilled all four of his 3-point attempts on the night. The Greensboro native and transfer from North Carolina A&T has made 11 of 14 3-point shots in the last three games, all Wolfpack wins, and has averaged 10.7 points per contest over that span. He has been particularly lethal from the baseline on kick-outs once N.C. State’s guards have penetrated inside the lane.
“Sam Hunt’s been a very good basketball player in his career,” Keatts said. “He has over 1,000 points, so he’s always been able to make shots.”
The recent form has been a welcome change for N.C State. In his first 12 ACC games, Hunt scored a total of 33 points.
“My confidence is high, not just because of me but my teammates,” Hunt said. “They do a great job of telling me to shoot and finding me. We work out before practice, after practice, so my confidence stays because I’ve been putting in the time and effort.”
Earlier in the season N.C. State lost to Northern Iowa, UNCG at home and was thrashed in its first two ACC games at Clemson and at Notre Dame. The Wolfpack had the look of a team that would struggle to win as much as it lost, but the process of growing as a team mirrors the steps Freeman had to take to mesh with his new team after the Charlotte native transferred from Baylor.
“You have to prepare to win,” Freeman said. “We lost some tough games but the season isn’t over. We went to practice the next day, watched film, and prepared for the next opponent.”
Freeman was shooting 34.6 percent from the floor prior to N.C. State’s three-game winning streak but has made 19-of-38 field-goal attempts since. He has averaged 20.3 points per contest during the span.
“When you are a fifth-year guy and you are at a new school you are probably going to force things early on,” Keatts said of Freeman. “He has learned how to trust other people. The Syracuse game (a road win for N.C. State where Freeman scored 17), I thought he really grew up in that area. He is trusting his teammates. He could have forced a couple of shots but he didn’t. I thought he did the same thing now.”
“He has been patient,” Keatts added. “He has picked his spots. He has become more mature. He has become a leader.”
While Freeman has big-time college experience, Hunt made the move to the ACC from the MEAC and it has been a thrill.
The next step is for the pair to continue to contribute. N.C. State may be playing with house money since the preseason expectations have already been surpassed, but the Pack is not ready to stop now.
“I’m really living the dream,” Hunt said. “I couldn’t imagine this. I couldn’t ask for this. I never knew what it was going to be like. I just knew I was going to be playing in the ACC. For us to be doing what we’re doing now, it’s a dream. We’ve got to finish up strong and then go into the ACC tournament hot.”