Three Points from N.C. State's 87-76 win over Wake Forest on Saturday:
1) Brown back on track
State guard Lorenzo Brown had 15 points with eight assists in a season-high 38 minutes on Saturday. He even gave a half-smile as he left the locker room after putting an end to his mini-slump.
"It was a little better," Brown said.
Brown, who is his own biggest critic, was pleased with his turnovers, only two — a low in ACC play for him. He was more aggressive against the Deacs with 11 shots (making six) after only taking five against Boston College on Wednesday, despite an obvious mismatch with Jordan Daniels.
Wake's Tony Chennault wasn't much more of a defensive match for Brown, who did his scoring in the second half in late sets where coach Mark Gottfried went "one high, four low" let Brown take his man off the dribble.
Brown's assist numbers are better, obviously, when Scott Wood (23 points) and C.J. Williams (18) are shooting well, but it's the way that he played on Saturday — pushing tempo and directing State's offense — that makes State the best possible version of itself.
2) Ninety-nine problems but a bench ain't one?
State got two points (forward DeShawn Painter), and five assists (guard Alex Johnson), off its bench on Saturday and it wasn't an issue.
That's because the starters all played so well. Painter played 13 minutes and Johnson played 14, which was enough to intermittently rest C.J. Leslie and C.J. Williams but Brown and Rich Howell (36) both played a season-high in minutes (which isn't a bad thing since State doesn't play again until Thursday and only twice in the next 11 days).
Gottfried says he's comfortable with his bench and both Painter and Johnson have at times given him reason to be, Saturday just wasn't the most productive game for either player.
Johnson, by the way, is in a horrific shooting slump, missing all 11 of his shots in the past three games. The five dimes, to one turnover, was good but State is going to need him to successfully get through its pending Duke-FSU-UNC stretch.
State's "easiest" path to the NCAA tournament at this point would be with a win at Duke (on Feb. 16) and a home win over FSU, which is two days later. State, by the way, hasn't won at Duke against Mike Krzyzewski since Feb. 6, 1988. (The Pack did beat Pete Gaudet's squad in Cameron on Jan. 18, 1995).
Despite of that fact, I still use "easier" to describe that path, because as long as John Henson's eligible, I don't see State beating UNC, even at home on Feb. 21.
3) The Tao of Bzdelik
That was the best I've seen the Deacs play under second-year coach Jeff Bzdelik. They quit in a 76-40 loss earlier this season to State and they were run out of the gym twice by State last season.
Wake had a chance to fold on Saturday, several actually, but to Bzdelik's credit, the players continued to compete for him in the face of certain defeat, which qualifies as progress.
I don't know half as much about basketball as Bzdelik, who worked in the NBA for 16 years as a coach and scout and has been a college head coach or assistant for another 16 years, but for the life of me I can't understand why he doesn't do more to get forward Travis McKie the ball.
McKie, sixth in the ACC in scoring, took nine shots on Saturday and made five, including all three of his 3-pointers. As much trouble as McKie was having guarding Scott Wood, Wood was having checking McKie.
But senior forward Nikita Mescheriakov, the definition of a role player, took eight shots and forward Ty Walker, a shot-blocker, took 10. I just don't get that math.
Bzdelik's logic after the game wasn't much better. His performance in the post-game was as confusing as his designated shots for Mescheriakov.
Dan Collins, the fine Wake beat writer for the Winston-Salem Journal, asked Bzdelik after the game about four different runs that State made during the game.
"You take away those runs and we outscored them by 19," Bzdelik said and he was stone-cold serious.
Why stop there? Take away State's 87 points and you beat them by 76! What kind of logic is that?
But that reasoning was Jeffersonian compared to his wrap-up quote about respect, which in his defense, was prompted by an inane question from Winston-Salem TV reporter about his team's effort, compared to the 36-point loss to the Wolfpack earlier this season.
And here's Bzdelik's philosophy on respect:
"There's an old saying in the NBA. You give respect by showing no respect. You give respect by showing no respect. And you all can figure out what that phrase really means. But the last time we played N.C. State we did not respect them because we didn't play hard. We didn't compete. That's a heck of a statement for a coach to make, but that's the truth.
"I mean, it's just like I remember Michael Jordan saying one time that he's had some rookies play him where they didn't want to touch him. They just feared him. They didn't even guard him. And Michael said you're not even respecting me because you won't compete against me. But if you get somebody out there who's just battling and giving everything you've got – and still you come up short – you know what? Doesn't your opponent respect you?"
Yes? Maybe? I don't know, coach, but if you take away those runs, you definitely beat them by 19.