Freshman guard Ryan Harrow said Thursday's sluggish start was a mixture of exams ending, a poor practice Wednesday and the Wolfpack looking ahead to Sunday's game against Arizona. If not for a strong second half effort from NC State, the combination of the three could have very easily resulted in a loss.
"We just didn't come out ready to play. It didn't start from like the game it started from practice yesterday," he said. "We weren't mentally prepared in practice yesterday and Coach told us that was the case and then we came in here thinking that we're playing Youngstown State and we just let up in the first half."
After falling behind 20-3 with 10:40 left in the first half, the Wolfpack outscored Youngstown State 64-30 in the final 30 minutes, allowing just 16 points and 22 percent shooting in the second half in its sixth win of the season.
Head coach Sidney Lowe credited Youngstown State with a great effort and said it wasn't until the Wolfpack started giving the Penguins 'credit' that the game started to turn.
"What we were doing was some of our own fault. We took some quick shots early," he said. ""They did a great job early. They were trying to take Scott Wood out and we didn't take advantage of opportunities where our bigs were open on the slip and in the second half we just changed what we were doing. I thought our point guards did a great job getting in the lane and creating opportunities."
Freshmen C.J. Leslie, Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown combined for 35 points and senior guard Javi Gonzalez added 11, all in the second half. It was NC State's domination of Youngstown State inside, however, that proved to be the difference. Led by Leslie's career-high 19 rebounds, the Wolfpack finished with a 50-35 edge on the glass and scored 20 second chance points.
"We were down and it's my job to bring the energy for our team and that's what I did," Leslie said of his performance. "I realized that everybody came out in a slump so I had to bring it out. Pick up the pace and everything."
Down 31-13 with under four minutes before halftime, NC State ran off eight straight points -- all by Leslie, who finished with 14 -- to pull to within 10 with 1:06 to play. A three-pointer by Youngstown's Black Allen would push the lead back to 13 at the half, but the momentum had already swung.
Eight minutes into the second half, the Wolfpack tied the game at 37. Leslie said the last four minutes of the first half were crucial for NC State's confidence.
"That was very important because we were obviously down, just by not getting back on defense, not hitting our shots," he said. "It was very important that we got that stretch because that carried over to the second half. The first five minutes of the second half we really picked it up."
NC State attacked the basket throughout the second half, going to the line 26 times in the final 20 minutes and 40 times on the night. The Wolfpack made 27 free throws as opposed to just four for Youngstown State.
"At first, I was looking to set the plays up but then Coach was like you have to start being aggressive so that's what I thought I should do," Harrow said. "They were a pretty rough team, right from the get go. We had to use that to our advantage and just take it to the hole and get the foul."
While Thursday's game certainly wasn't the picture of beauty NC State and Lowe may have hoped for heading into Sunday's game against Arizona, it may have been another important opportunity for the Wolfpack to learn. Lowe said he hopes the Thursday night lesson can translate into a better performance -- and another win -- Sunday against the Wildcats.
"It's an important game for us. First of all, it's a home game and we want to control our home court," he said. "Second, [Arizona's] a big, respected and well-coached team with great players. It will be a good opportunity to see if we're still growing and getting better as a team. We have to come ready to play."