NC State played one of their most complete games of the season on Tuesday night when they took out a very good, very disciplined Stanford team. NC State finally seemed to normalize after a few weeks of freshmen and upperclassmen feeling out their roles. In this one, the upperclassmen led the way with the freshmen providing support. I think this is the way most of us envisioned this team playing, but with the infusion of new talent, it took the Pack a while to find their way. Now let’s get in-depth and breakdown a few players.
Lorenzo Brown: Welcome back Mr. Brown. I thought Zo played outstanding in this game. He really has started to come into his own over the past 3 games, but Tuesday he really seemed like he found his groove. The key? He slowed down. A lot of times, when you have a player pressing or just playing a little ‘off,’ it’s thanks to everything speeding up for them. This leads to poor decisions and forcing the situation. Brown, for whatever reason, was simply trying to do too much. Against Stanford he was back to his old self..smooth and dangerous. Brown has that higher gear that only ‘elite’ players have, however he gets into trouble when he tries to play the entire game in that gear. When he’s most effective he’s playing at a smooth, controlled pace, which almost lulls his defender to sleep. Only then does he ratchet it up to get to the rim, or to break on a pass and make the steal. This is why Lorenzo is so dangerous and why NBA scouts are watching him closely.
Against Stanford, Brown had a definite height and strength advantage over Aaron Bright (Stanford’s PG) and he exploited it all night long. He was able to get into the lane and create havoc on offense, while also locking down and setting the tone on defense. Zo finished with a season high 24 points and added 5 assists. He really showed what made him so special last year, which was his ability to get into the lane with his size, hit the tear-drop floater, or find the open man for an easy bucket. Brown was a leader against Stanford. He scored when he needed to, he ran the offense with patience and he really gave 110% on the defensive end. This is the type of overall performance NC State needs out of Brown on a regular basis, and now that he’s got his confidence back, I think you’ll see him bring it.
Richard Howell- In the press conference I had to laugh when Coach Gottfried talked about how people need not take what Sir Rich is doing for granted. It’s so true. This guy gets zero hype and all he does is come out and wreak havoc in the paint. Howell is indispensable. Sitting baseline last game I got a real close look at the type of power and aggression he brings on every possession. It’s insane. This guy has a fire raging in his belly. He loves throwing his muscle around and challenging other bigs to try to match his physicality. One possession in particular, Stanford’s Dwight Powell (who isn’t too small himself – 6’10, 235lbs) was on a little scoring run and getting a few buckets without much effort. Howell asked to switch with Leslie on a possession, and immediately threw his weight into Powell on the block. Powell, at the time was trying to post up, but Rich wasn’t having it. He was basically challenging Powell to bang with him on the blocks. He was looking him in the face as if to say “So you want to get physical now?” ….Quickly, realizing he really didn’t feel like getting muscled around, Powell moved out to the 3 point line, wanting no piece of Sir Rich.
This was just one example of the type of impact Howell can have on a game. He is in a zone right now, basically living in ‘beast-mode.’ I’m not sure how it happened, but all of the energy Howell was expending sulking and getting frustrated in the past, has been channeled into pure rage and ‘will to win.’ Easily, this guy is becoming a fan favorite for his aggression and production in the paint. He finished with 17 points and 12 boards and earned every single one of them. Again, enjoy this guy right now because he’s playing at a whole different level and if he keeps up this ultra-violence mentality in the paint, NC State is going to have a big season and Howell is going to be scooting up the draft boards come April.
CJ Leslie- This game told me a lot about Leslie. This was a matchup I was really wanting to watch. Dwight Powell, to me is a sure-fire NBA player. He’s 6’10, versatile, athletic and strong. So, if you want a barometer on how Leslie will fare at the next level, this would be a nice matchup to look at.
During the game I tweeted that Leslie was getting the best of Powell early on and I stand by that. Powell was scoring more than Leslie was, but he was shooting basically every time down the floor. Powell’s inability to dominate Leslie was the reason State was leading early on. Stanford obviously thought they had an advantage on the blocks here, but Leslie, in my eyes, played very physical and strong position defense. Sure Powell knocked down some jumpers, but he wasn’t able to take over on the blocks like he wanted to. All in all, I think it was obvious that Powell was going to get his. He was going to shoot and shoot until he did, but Leslie made it hard for him. He was in front of him the whole time and when he tried to power a tomahawk slam over Calvin, it was sent right back in his face. Look at the box score. It took Powell 21 shots to get 23 points, it took Leslie only 10 shots to get 16 points. Leslie was more efficient on the night. NC State made Powell score from the outside, which was what they wanted him to do. He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong, but I was very proud of Leslie’s heart, hustle and physicality against a taller, stronger, NBA caliber prospect.
Also, Leslie was knocking down his jumper and really taking it in some big situations with confidence. If he can knock this down (on occasion), he’s basically unguardable by most players in the nation.
Scott Wood- Everyone can breathe easy again. Wood didn’t forget how to shoot. He proved it against Stanford hitting five 3s in the first 10 minutes. His barrage of 3s changed the game and that is why Wood needs to be on the court at all times. Stanford was so focused on the others that Wood got loose, knocked in some 3s and all of the sudden they had to change plans. That’s when Zo, Howell and Leslie stepped in. State got a ton of easy buckets because Stanford was so worried about Scott getting open again, and that is why a good shooter is so dangerous. Teams also are nervous to play State, a very big, athletic team, in zone. As soon as Wood comes out, teams go zone. He checks back in and they’re forced to man up. Everyone was begging Wood to get more off the dribble moves this offseason, but honestly, I think he’s the most valuable when he’s coming off screens and being a pure set shooter. He’s a game changers and a huge part of why State won on Tuesday.
Purvis, Warren and Lewis- The freshmen really took a backseat in this one and it’s ok, because State has enough talent to dominate without them being leading scorers. It’s exciting to see so much talent out there without them having pressure to produce big numbers. It’s like they know they are the future and they are just doing what they can now as they wait for their time. As the talent gets better and as ACC season starts, you’ll see these guys struggle a little. Purvis will need to start finishing stronger at the rim and Warren won’t be able to get to the hole as easy. I think you already see Lewis having a little trouble with guards bumping him and getting handsy. It’s bothering him, but that’s how it is with freshmen, they need to learn and adapt. I think they will because I think they’re the real deal, but people don’t need to get down on them when they’re not putting up the numbers they were against these lower tier teams State’s been playing.
Jordan Vandenberg- Umm, how did we leave out Big V from out initial write-up? I’m not sure, but it was definitely a mistake. Vandy played his best game of the season to this point. He showed confidence, awareness and physicality when he came in to spell the Wolfpack bigs in the first half. His two big blocks energized the crowd and had Vandy looking like he deserved a few more minutes. With the Pack playing well in the 2nd half, Jorden didn’t get to see those minutes, but I know for a fact that Coach Gottfried liked what he saw and will be trying to work him into the lineup a little more. Big props to him too, because I know he’s been working real hard to break into this lineup and he might just have earned his place.