ANSWERING THE BELL
In losses to Stanford and Indiana during its non-conference schedule, NC State had struggled at times to respond when other teams made runs. That was especially true late in those games, when the Cardinal and Hoosiers closed strong while the Wolfpack faded. Against Maryland on Sunday, however, State responded to Maryland runs numerous times in the second half and down the stretch, winning a game in a fashion that fans in Raleigh aren't too familiar with.
The Wolfpack built their 36-30 halftime edge to nine points in the first two minutes of the second half, only to see Maryland cut it down to three less than two minutes later. It happened again midway through the half, when Maryland rallied from an 8-point deficit to make it a three point game with 10 minutes left. After NC State built a 67-53 lead with five minutes to play, the Terps responded again, cutting it to 67-62 just three minutes later.
Every time Maryland made a push in the second half, NC State responded, never letting the Terps tie the game or take a lead which could have changed the complexion of the contest. Gottfried credited his team for that in the post game, as he should. The Wolfpack has learned from those early season struggles and applied those lessons Sunday against Maryland.
GETTING THE FIRST ONE
Head coach Mark Gottfried hasn't shied away from expressing the goals he has for the Wolfpack in his first year at the helm -- he wants NC State to make the NCAA Tournament. Earlier in the week, he even expressed the fact that he believes it will take 11 conference wins for the Pack to reach the postseason tournament they'd like to be in come March. At the same time, Gottfried's preached the "one game at a time" mantra. Sunday's win was a perfect example of why both talking points can work.
NC State stayed focus for much of the game against the Terps, putting away a game that previous teams might have let slip away. The win gets NC State off on the right foot in the league and allows the confidence that has been building during the non-conference schedule to continue to grow. And with the ACC action already producing some head-scratching results Saturday, a nice home win over an improving Maryland team could be the perfect momentum builder for the Pack during the first few weeks of league play.
WOOD SETS SCHOOL RECORD
Scott Wood was good throughout the game, scoring 19 points on an efficient shooting effort from inside the arc, but he was especially cloth during the final minute. He knocked down six free throws in the final minute to allow the Wolfpack to keep Maryland at arm's length. He also set a school record in the process, passing Rodney Monroe for the most consecutive free throws made.
Wood, who hasn't missed a foul shot all season, has now made 47 straight from the charity stripe. That number is seven shy of J.J. Redick's ACC record.
CLOSING OUT GAMES
While there were more positives than negatives in the final five minutes, the Wolfpack did have a chance to step on Maryland's neck when they were up 67-53 with 4:58 to play. It was a chance to turn an impressive performance into a double-digit win. Thanks to a couple of senseless turnovers in the backcourt and a poor play on an inbounds situation, NC State wasn't able to do that.
Scott Wood's free throws ended up being the key to closing out the win, but they didn't have to be. As NC State continues to grow and move through an easy first four game in the league, closing out teams early in games will be an important confidence builder going into tougher games. Good teams put teams away when they are up 14 with five minutes to play.
If there has been one defensive area to nitpick during NC State's first 16 games, it's been occasionally lackadaisical effort closing out or finding perimeter shooters. That trend was present again Sunday, as Maryland shooters found open spots on the floor numerous times during the game. Particularly in the first half, when Maryland shot 5 of 10 from deep, the Wolfpack let shooters too open. The main beneficiary of that was Terrell Stoglin, who knocked down two three-pointers in the first 20 minutes and six on the night.
Whether it's effort, not seeing ball and man or a combination of both, the Wolfpack needs to do a better job finding and locking up shooters on the perimeter. Even bad teams will shoot the ball better than average if players are left open.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
A focused C.J. Leslie could be a problem for the ACC. His performance Sunday offered more proof of that fact. He led NC State in both points (20) and rebounds (11) Sunday, picking up his second double-double of the season. Leslie has now scored in double figures in 12 of the 13 games he's played this season and leads NC State in scoring at 13 a game.
Mark Gottfried on winning 11 games in the ACC
"I'm not going to hide from my dreams. That's our goals – I'm not afraid of it and I'm not afraid to say it. Now I've also said its a tall order for our team. Let's be real honest. Keep our eye on the ball now and remember where we've been. And I think we all in this room know where this program has been."