NC State 91-83
- Wow. The first 20 minutes of NC State’s win over their rival Tar Heels was outstanding. We all questioned State’s defense. Could they lock down and take an opponent out of their game? Well, that question was answered on Saturday night. Everyone and I mean everyone was defending. Brown, Leslie, and even Wood had a great defensive first half. The Pack held UNC to only 30% shooting. Now look, I’m not going to say that I think the Heels are some kind of offensive juggernaut, but this is a team that was playing good basketball and tonight, NC State was a buzzsaw. They were focused, intense and just really, really good in the first half.
- I know I shouldn’t say this, but NC State looked like a top 5 team in the first half. They combined suffocating defense with high octane, nearly unstoppable offense. It’s still only late January, so this team still has time to get better. If they can put together a full 40 minutes of tough defense coupled with their usual offensive output, then this is one of the most dangerous teams in the nation.
- Give it up for CJ Leslie. As much crap as he takes from message board fans, and media members for his on again, off again spurts of greatness, you have to admit, the kid is fun to watch. When the bright lights shine, he’s at his best. You have to remember, this guy shunned a lot of great programs to stay home at NC State and change the trajectory of this program. Sure, Mark Gottfried has come in and done some great things, but Leslie is someone that Pack fans should be looking at and thanking. He is a unique talent that doesn’t come around very often, and he chose to come to a program that was building because it was his hometown school and because he wanted to make a difference. Well, he has and I think he deserves a huge thank you from the Wolfpack faithful. Leslie was great tonight, finishing with 17 and 10 and really changing the game with his dominance in the post and off the bounce from 15 feet out. He told me after the game that the team and coach wanted him to be in attack mode early on and try to go right at McAdoo. He didn’t think anyone on that roster could matchup with him, and he was right. McAdoo had 2 fouls in the first 2 minutes, sending him to the bench, and putting Carolina right were NC State wanted them.
- It wasn’t only Leslie who starred in this one, Brown also was very, very good and really controlled the pace against UNC. Brown was his old self, dishing out dimes and scoring nearly at will in the first half. Brown finished with 20 points and 11 assists to lead the Wolfpack. But where Brown really showed up, was on defense. I’ve been hard on him recently, because I think he wasn’t giving good enough effort, however, tonight he was on point. He had Marcus Paige on lock and really exposed him as the inexperienced freshman that he is. In the second half, Brown seemed a little too tired and a little loose with the ball, but when he was fresh, he was stellar on this night.
-One reason State is so dominant is because they can come at you from every angle. The angle that has been the dagger for many teams is TJ Warren. The freshman is one of the best scorers I’ve ever watched in college basketball. He is so efficient, so professional about his game. He’s not looking to showboat or make it on the highlight reels. Warren is here to drop buckets, and that’s exactly what he does. From inside, from outside and tonight he was especially good in transition, where he had an easy dunk off of a 1/2 court steal and also an alley-oop on the break from Brown. TJ ended with 19 and once again put up a crazy FG% of 75%. He killed the Heels with 3s, mid range floaters and transition buckets. Huge game from Warren, a freshman who is really carrying this team at times this season.
- State shot 49% against the Heels, 53% from 3 point range and 89% from the FT line. That’s pretty darn good against a team who has been pretty decent on defense a times this season. But honestly, one reason State shot such a good percentage is because they were awesome in transition. They killed UNC on the break, dropping 20 fast break points on them in the 1st half and adding 19 more in the 2nd.
- UNC came into this game as the best rebounding team in the nation, but left being out rebounded by 10 by NC State. You probably can guess how this happened. If you guessed ‘Because Richard Howell is a rebounding animal.’ you’re right. Howell scooped 14 boards and made the UNC big men look real soft as he ripped rebound after rebound off the glass. I keep saying this, but you’re watching something very rare in college basketball when you watch Sir Rich. The guy plays with a passion, with an aggression and with reckless abandon that you rarely see at this level. When Sidney Lowe recruited him, the first thing he said about Howell is that he’s a junkyard dog. At the time I thought he was a little off, because Howell was a little soft around the waste and got down on himself too easily. But now I think we all see it. Howell has an unmatched tenacity to dominate his opponents and it’s been fun to watch.
- Now we talked a lot about the good. Let’s mention the bad. State was up by 19 at half, and had the lead nearing 30, but once again they couldn’t pull the trigger and end it. They let UNC back in. Sure they were tired, but the problem is that they weren’t hungry enough. This was their chance to embarrass their rivals on national television. To beat them so bad that the last 15 years were forgotten in one night. That didn’t happen. State got up by 20 and they had their fill. They let up on the gas and let the Heels get all the way back to within 5, before making a late run to put them away. Sure, I’m being picky and a win is a win, but I wanted to see the Heels suffer. I wanted this beatdown to be the worst in history. Maybe that was wishful thinking, but if NC State coud have sustained their first 20 minutes and finished a full 40, it would have been a 50 point drubbing. This is where the Wolfpack need to improve moving forward. They need to learn how to kill. They need to get that cut throat mentality, that mean streak, where only complete destruction will suffice. When they get to that point, NC State will be one of the top 5 teams in the nation.
- Now let’s talk big picture. This has already been a pretty fun season for Pack fans. We beat Duke, we take out UNC and we’re in the running for the top team in the ACC. I think the Pack is on the right track. I think they’ve hired the right guy and are recruiting the right people. I think NC State is more lined up for conference dominance than any of the other schools currently in the conference. The Wolfpack is back, they’re relevant again, and they’re finally contenders again. It’s been a long time coming, but UNC and Duke fans should start learning how to respect NC State, because the tides are starting to change.