Observations From The Game: Vanderbilt

After three wins to open up the 2011-2012 season, NC State tasted defeat for the first time Saturday when it lost to No. 20 Vanderbilt 86-79 in New Jersey.

It was a tough back-and-forth battle with an experienced Vanderbilt team that started three seniors and two juniors. Below is a look at the highlights low-lights from the Pack's first defeat of the Mark Gottfried era.


While Vanderbilt spent most of its evening shooting from outside, the Wolfpack went to the rim and had success for much of the game. Even with Deshawn Painter and Richard Howell in foul trouble, NC State -- led by C.J. Leslie in the first half and Howell in the second -- was able to score 50 points in the paint to Vanderbilt's 22. Leslie led the way with 20 points and 7 of 9 shooting while Howell, after a slow start, tallied 16 points and nine rebounds in just 20 minutes.

As the competition improves in the coming weeks NC State will need to continue to get the ball inside and look to draw fouls.

Mark Gottfried has praised his squad in the first two weeks of the season because of the Wolfpack's willingness to share the ball with each other.

That positive early season trend continued Saturday, as NC State tallied 16 assists on 31 made field goals against Vanderbilt. It marked the fourth straight game that the Wolfpack have tallied assists on more than half of their made baskets. For the season, NC State has 78 assists on 119 made field goals, good for about 65 percent. It's one of the most noticeable differences from the 2010-2011 edition of the Pack, a squad that shared it at a 55 percent rate on the season. Most notably, the unselfish play isn't coming from point guard Lorenzo Brown and the backcourt alone.

NC State's big men have shared it exceptionally well early in the season, leading to layups and trips to the foul line.

There was no doubting who would run the show for the Wolfpack offense this season. From day one, new head coach Mark Gottfried gave sophomore Lorenzo Brown the keys to the car. He hasn't disappointed.

Through four games, he's averaging nearly 12 points and more than 7 assists. He's accounted for nearly 40 percent (29) of NC State's 78 assists on the season. Brown's also come up big on the glass and on the defensive end, pulling down four rebounds a game and racking up 18 steals to help the Pack out to a 3-1 start.

In NC State's 60-58 win over Princeton last week in Raleigh, Brown played through a stomach virus and injured ankle, leading the Pack with 16 points, 8 assists, five rebounds, five steals in 37 minutes played. In Saturday's loss to Vanderbilt, Brown once again filled up the stat sheet -- 13 points, 6 assists, four rebounds and four steals in 36 minutes. Mark Gottfried gave Brown the keys, and through four games he's had the Wolfpack offense in high gear.


NC State has been decent from the free throw line (68 percent) for the season, but Saturday's 13 of 22 effort won't get the job done for the Wolfpack. State hit 12 of 18 attempts in the back-and-fourth first half but was only able to knock down 1 of 4 free throws in the second half. Vanderbilt took advantage on its trips to the line in the second half, knocking down 14 of 21 attempts. Whether it's due to a lack of focus or tired legs, NC State will need to find a way to improve its free throw shooting in the second half of games moving forward.

Close games are often won or lost when the clock is stopped and a player has a chance at two free points. The Wolfpack will need to become more consistent from the stripe, soon.

While the Wolfpack did do a good job limiting turnovers Saturday against Vanderbilt (13 total), two of the giveaways came at absolutely critical times. The first, which came with 4:45 to play, allowed Vanderbilt to extend a 2-point lead to four on a layup by John Jenkins. NC State recovered, even taking the lead a little over a minute later, but any turnovers late in close games can be come back to haunt a team. The final turnover, committed by Brown with 49 seconds to play, was the nail in the coffin for NC State. It allowed Vanderbilt to extend an 81-77 lead to 83-77 at the free throw line, effectively ending any chance for last minute heroics.

NC State has been good more than its been bad this season, but limiting turnovers in crucial situations will be important moving forward.

NC State was slow to rotate on defense numerous times in Saturday's loss, especially in the second half. It gave the Commodores way too many open looks around the basket. Because of Vanderbilt's Princeton-like attack, it wasn't necessarily surprising to see, but it is something worth keeping an eye on, especially against teams -- like Texas -- that run a more traditional offensive system. 2

In his first game back after serving a three-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits, C.J. Leslie was a force inside for NC State. He finished with 20 points (18 in the first half) and was, at times, unstoppable near the basket. He also looked engaged defensively, picking up two steals and five rebounds in the 27 minutes he played. The one area where Leslie needs to be a bit more consistent is from the free throw line. He went 6 of 10 Saturday, which isn't awful, but if he continues to attack the rim aggressively he's going to get a lot of chances at the free throw stripe. As mentioned earlier, those free points are huge in every game, especially in close games like Saturday's loss.

For the second straight game, NC State faced a team that couldn't miss from downtown in the first half and couldn't hit from behind the arc in the second. Vanderbilt knocked down eight three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, but cooled at halftime and only hit one of its eight second half attempts from three. Unfortunately for NC State, that one three-pointer -- hit by John Jenkins with just over a minute to play -- proved to be they key play of the ball game.


One positive for NC State is that the Wolfpack won't have long stew over Saturday's close loss. State will take on Texas Monday night at 6:30 p.m. to close out the TicketCity Legends Classic. The Longhorns were upset by Oregon State Saturday night, 100-95 in an overtime thriller.

Monday's contest will mark the second straight game where NC State will have to be aware of a big-time scorer. Vanderbilt had John Jenkins, Texas has J'Covan Brown, a 6'1" junior averaging 32 points and nearly eight assists a game so far this season.

He scored 25 Saturday against Oregon State in 44 minutes, knocking down 5 of 8 three-point attempts while also dishing out 9 assists and pulling down six rebounds. The Wolfpack will have to be active defensively and try to keep Brown contained to avoid a second loss in three days.

Monday's game is available on ESPN3.

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