RALEIGH After a listless first half, particularly on the defensive end, the Wolfpack found a spark at the beginning of the second and used that to put away UNC Greensboro 89-68. With that, the nonconference portion of the schedule is complete, and ACC play awaits.
“'Are our guys ready for that next step? Probably. They're ready,'” Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried said about beginning league play. “I wouldn't say you look past anybody. But we're all honest here, our guys are ready for the next step. We did what we needed to do to be able to win.”
The No. 23 Wolfpack (11-2) opened the second half on a 12-4 run. A Scott Wood 3-pointer game N.C. State its first double-digit lead at 49-38, and the run was capped by a C.J. Leslie steal and reverse slam. That put the Wolfpack up 55-40 with 16 minutes left in the game.
During that stretch, the Wolfpack held UNC Greensboro (2-9) to 2-for-6 shooting and one offensive rebound. N.C. State also forced two turnovers as well.
“We knew we had to pick it up,” forward C.J. Leslie said. “We were lacking a little bit on rebounding the ball in the first half.”
A Lorenzo Brown putback dunk off of a Rodney Purvis missed 3-pointer, which made the score 62-48, drew one of the loudest cheers of the game. Richard Howell followed that with a three-point play to push the lead to 65-48 with 11 minutes, 26 seconds left on the clock.
The other play that got the crowd similarly enthused was a 3-pointer from walk-on Staats Battle with 49 seconds left in the game.
Leslie scored in double figures for the ninth consecutive game, finishing with a team-high 21 points. Howell notched his seventh double-double of the year, and 20th of his career, with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Scott Wood (15), Brown (15) and T.J. Warren (13) also finished in double figures.
Rarely have the Wolfpack struggled on the offensive end--coming into the game, N.C. State led the nation in field goal percentage (.535) and shot 53.3 percent against the Spartans. The issues have come on the defensive end, where the Wolfpack have lacked the necessary intensity at times. That was especially apparent in the first half, when the Spartans shot 45 percent (16-of-35) from the field and pulled down eight offensive rebounds for nine second-chance points.
“We've got to maintain a higher level of intensity for longer periods of time, especially defensively and on defensive rebounding,” Gottfried said. “Those are the two things.”
With the win, the Wolfpack have won seven in a row, the longest winning streak of the Gottfried era and lengthiest since the 2007-08 season, when the Wolfpack also won seven in a row at the end of the nonconference slate.
While N.C. State took a 43-36 lead into halftime, Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried saw plenty of plays that made him stop his feet in frustration. The Spartans were able to stay in the game despite missing their leading scorer, Trevis Simpson, who had been averaging 20.3 points per game, 15th best in the country. He injured his ankle on the way to the pregame meal.
Back-to-back effort buckets by the Spartans' Kelvin McNeil, off of a loose ball around the basket and a dunk off on a Tyler Lewis turnover, had UNC Greensboro up 26-23 with seven minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half.
A Scott Wood 3-pointer broke a 32-32 tie to put the Wolfpack ahead 35-32 with 3 minutes and 29 seconds left in the half. That was the beginning of an 8-0 run, as Rodney Purvis hit a 3 and Lorenzo Brown found T.J. Warren for a lay-up in transition.
N.C. State's desire to push tempo could be feeding into the team's struggles on the defensive glass, Gottfried said. Instead of crashing the boards, guards are cheating toward the offensive end.
“There are some guys that are playing good defense and others that are not, so we just all have to get on the same page,” Brown said. “It all feeds into defensive rebounding. Once one play breaks down, it's all a cluster.”
And that's a cluster that the Wolfpack would like to emerge from on top.