N.C. State's C.J. Leslie (5) drives to the basket against Youngstown State's Dan Boudler (33) during first half. MICHAEL MCLOONE - newsobserver.com
RALEIGH -- Youngstown State wasn’t supposed to be this tough.
The Penguins, a team from Ohio that plays in the Horizon League, banged, hustled, scraped and knocked down shots from everywhere on the court in the first half at the RBC Center, forcing N.C. State to climb back from an 18-point first-half deficit to claim a weary-eyed 67-50 victory.
For much of the game, State (6-3) counted on freshman C.J. Leslie, who finished with 14 points and a season-high 19 rebounds. He bullied his way to boards and turned them into offense, driving coast-to-coast for layups or drawing fouls on put-backs.
“My role on this team is to bring the energy,” said Leslie, who played 28 minutes and sparked his team’s rally in the first half.
Fellow freshman Ryan Harrow, coming off a career-high 20-point performance against USC Upstate, made a 3-pointer with 8 minutes, 44 seconds remaining to pull State even for the second time in the game.
Two plays later, Harrow attacked the basket, drew a foul and made two free throws to give the Wolfpack a two-point lead, one it held on to, fending off an inspired Penguins squad that clearly walked into the arena with the intention of clipping an ACC team.
That’s until State reversed its first-half shooting woes. A 3-pointer by sophomore forward Scott Wood with 3:36 remaining and two free throws by senior guard Javier Gonzalez gave the Pack a 10-point lead – and some, only some, space to breathe late in the second half.
State helped itself from the free throw line, converting 18 of 26 free throw attempts in the second half. It closed out the Penguins over a seven-minute span with a 21-3 run, capped by a layup by sophomore DeShawn Painter with 1:04 left.
Harrow finished with 14 points and two assists in 18 reserve minutes, while Gonzalez added 11 points. Harrow was 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
State, which allowed their opponents to shoot 42.9 percent in the first half, limited the Penguins to 22.2 percent shooting from the floor in the second half. They stuck hands in faces and pressured the Penguins.
Younstown State’s Vytas Sulskis scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“It was two halves of basketball,” Youngstown State coach Jerry Slocum said. “You’re not going to shoot 22 percent in the second half and come into a building like this and beat a talented team like they are.”
The Penguins (5-5) surged to a 20-3 lead over State and silenced the announced crowd of 9,071 at the RBC Center in the first half.
Sharing the basketball and pumping in jump shots, the Penguins abused the Pack’s man-to-man defense and never blinked as they went into halftime ahead 34-21.
State shot 6-for-25 from the field in the first half – 0-for-6 from 3-point range – and at times had little movement in its motion offense.
The Pack lacked intensity and, for some parts of the game, it lacked respect.
“Let’s give these guys credit,” Lowe said. “ That’s one thing as a basketball player they don’t do enough of – they don’t give teams credit. ... In the second half, we gave them more credit and we kept the ball moving and we didn’t force shots. And then our defense is really what did it for us.”
Leslie, who started in his sixth game of the season, did what he could to lift his team.
With a mentality to attack the basket, he scored nine consecutive points at the end of the first half to help the Pack pull to within 10 points of the Penguins.
Leslie followed a missed layup by freshman Lorenzo Brown with a dunk in the lane. He followed that dunk with a drive and layup with 1:07 remaining.
Lowe said Leslie’s performance on Thursday showed growth from earlier games where he attacked the basket with ineffective one-on-one moves. This time, however, Leslie grabbed rebounds and allowed them to guide his offense.
“There was a point there where he just decided I’m going to get it,” Lowe said. “When he got the rebound, he pushed the ball down the floor. He had two tip-ins. ... He did it in the right way. ... He went to the offensive boards and he made a difference there and he made a difference defensively.”
Leslie noted his growth.
“I’m just know getting into the flow of everything,” he said. “It’s coming slowly but surely. I’m just allowing myself the time to get better. That’s what it’s about. I can do more. ... Right now, I’m just allowing myself to slowly adjust to the college game, with coach’s help. It’s very big that me and him see eye-to-eye.”