This one was hard to watch, especially at the end. The Wolfpack seemingly never really got it rolling against the Heels and seemed timid and frustrated the entire game. So what happened? Let’s break it down.
1) Leslie didn’t bring it: The best player on the team is going to have to shoulder a responsibility in this one. There’s no way that Calvin Leslie who has absolutely dominated UNC in his career, should come out against a smaller defender (PJ Hairston) and finish with 6 points and 4 rebounds. I’m not sure why he wasn’t aggressive against Hairston, a smaller, weaker defender. He shot only 8 times all game, less than any other starter. Maybe he was trying to play smarter, limit the turnovers? Well, that didn’t work, he still had 6 and on defense, he was alright, but still wasn’t the factor he should have been. Leslie’s had been rebounding better as of late, however on Saturday he only finished with 4, and again, didn’t have a block. Leslie is averaging 1 block per game, down from both his freshman and sophomore season. This kid is still one of the most talented players in the country and the deciding factor on how far this team can go. They’re going only as far as Leslie will take them. They simply need more from him.
2) Defense Needs to be Serious: This is not play time anymore. The games where NC State slacks off on a few possession here and there on defense need to be over. I know they play at a very fast pace and it probably takes a toll on the guys ability to lock down on every possession, but if you want to be a GREAT team you need to cut out the excuses. Tired on defense, get in better shape. That’s the only answer there is. Either that, or keep losing games you should win. If this team wants to do anything that will go down in history, or be remembered years and years from now, they need to become defensive minded. Locking down their man needs to become more fun and more rewarding than throwing down a dunk on the break. There is no way Marcus Paige should ever control a game against Lorenzo Brown and there’s no way Reggie Bullock, a guy who really can only beat you by shooting it, should ever get clean looks because we go underneath screens. It’s just that they’re making too many bonehead plays and losing focus on defense too easily to be a great team right now. The reason this team isn’t #6 in the nation is not because of any reason other than defense. State is 5th in the nation in FG% and 10th in PPG, so offensively this team is right where we were picked to be nationally…however that’s only the offensive end. The Pack has come up short all season long on D and will come up short in March unless something is done about it.
3) Howell and Wood Show Up Big Again: There’s something to be said about being a senior. About knowing that no matter what you do, this is your final go-round in college ball. For both Howell and Wood, there is no NBA ticket that is already punched. It’s either earn your way to the big show, or head overseas like so many other guys who had a ton of talent, but never reached their full potential. Right now, the only consistency this Wolfpack team is seeing is coming from these two guys. Howell has been the saving grace this year on a team where he was only mentioned as a foot note in most preseason articles. It was all Zo and Leslie, but since the season started, it’s been Howell who has carried this ball club. He was big again against UNC. Big Rich finished with 13 points and 17 boards.
Meanwhile, Wood stayed red hot, and has been another guy who has been so important for the Wolfpack during ACC play. Scott finished with 19 points on 7-14 shooting and anytime you get a game like that out of Wood, it’s a travesty if you’re not coming out with the win.
4) Freshmen Not a Huge Factor: Either Warren or Purvis were going to have to step up big in this one, and while both played ok, neither guy was dominant. Warren finished with 10 points and 10 boards and honestly did have a nice showing. He is really taking it upon himself to get hungry on the boards and that is really helping State.
As we said in the pregame, Purvis play was going to be vital. I can’t stress how much the Wolfpack needs Rodney to find his swagger. It’s an absolute must. This big lineup State is using is ok against some opponents, but they need the speed and quickness of Purvis on the court. I know people may think State isn’t using Purvis right, or that they need to give him more minutes, but really, Rodney needs to earn these minutes and earn the right to be a go-to guy. Where is the Rodney Purvis who goes to the hoop with no regard for life? Where is the Purvis who doesn’r shy away with a floater or a pull up jumper, but goes to the basket with reckless abandon. Once again, he was denied on the break, on a play that should have equalled a bucket or a foul. What’s going on? Is he worried about getting hurt? Is he nervous about drawing the foul and having to head to the free throw line, where he hasn’t been very good? I don’t know, but this is the ACC. No bucket is going to come easy so earning everything is a must. Purvis MUST get his confidence back and must understand that this NC State teams doesn’t need a speed guy that won’t go to the rack hard…they need a strong player who’s going to relish the chance to throw down a dunk over anyone who is willing to jump with him.
5) The Enigma that is Lorenzo Brown: 12 points and 12 assists. When you look at Brown’s line you have to be impressed. He played great in spurts and was absolutely the dominant PG that NBA scouts should be drooling oer…but then there are times when it just goes away. Times when he drives to the basked, shies away from contact and just throws the ball up…times when he’s going too fast and is too loose with the basketball ( he finished with 4 TOs), times when he’s just no where to be found on defense. Look, this team is asking a TON out of Lorenzo Brown. 12 points and 12 assists is a great game, so no one is taking that away from him, but great numbers does not equal wins. This team needs to lock down on defense. This team needs to start playing stronger. Outside of Howell they’re soft. There, it’s been said. This team is soft and if that doesn’t change soon, if this team doesn’t start inviting physicality and embracing it, then they’re going to get run over by a team that does.
With all that said, NC State is still in position to play well into March. They didn’t play poorly against UNC, but they didn’t play great. They did play with good effort and obviously where doing all they could at the moment to win the basketball game. Going forward, this team needs to re-examine themselves, look within and realize that this team isn’t playing at a top 10 level. This is one of the most talented teams, man for man, in the while country, there is an answer, and the Wolfpack need to do some soul searching to find it. They play Wednesday night at home against BC. They need to make a statement in that one, and gain some momentum heading to Atlanta to face GT this weekend. If State wants to stay off the bubble, they’re basically going to have to win out.