Making Game-Winning Plays
Throughout its four-game losing streak coming into Wednesday's matchup with the Canes, NC State had plenty of chances to make the types of plays that win games. Against Duke, Florida State and Clemson, the Wolfpack had opportunities. To be blunt, State had failed miserably at taking advantage of them.
That changed in a big way Wednesday.
The Wolfpack repeatedly answered the bell in the second half against the Hurricanes, hanging on to a lead that was never more than eight points in the final 16 minutes of the game. Miami made its runs, and the Pack responded. There were countless key shots, rebounds and even defensive stops, but C.J. Leslie's steal, outlet pass to Lorenzo Brown and subsequent alley-oop dunk that gave State a 43-42 lead with 15:57 to play in the game was the epitome of a solid, winning effort by the Pack.
Wood Breaks Out
After struggling mightily during NC State's losing streak, junior forward Scott Wood broke out against Miami Wednesday, knocking down five key 3-pointers to finish with 15 points. The biggest of those shots came with 1:08 left on the clock after Miami's Malcolm Grant had tied the game at 69 with a 3-pointer of his own. Wood got open after an NC State timeout and buried a deep shot from the right wing, giving the Pack its final lead of the game at 72-69.
Wood had been in a big-time shooting slump prior to Wednesday, knocking down just four of 20 attempts from behind the arc in State's last four games. After he missed a couple of shots early, it looked like that streak might continue.
"He missed a couple early, he had good looks early, and to be honest, I thought in my mind ‘what do we want to do here?' At the same time, he is a great shooter and he just needed to make a couple," Mark Gottfried said. "If he makes a couple everything will change for him, which it did."
NC State was efficient throughout much of the night, but it was particularly noticeable in the second half, when the Pack shot 60 percent from two and 52 percent from three as it held onto a slim margin over the ‘Canes. Two players who get special recognition here are Lorenzo Brown and Richard Howell, who both had special second half efforts.
Brown was especially good when the shot clock was running low. He controlled his dribble and was able to make solid plays, whether it meant shooting a floater in the lane (something he did more than once) or finding a teammate for a solid shot. He scored 10 of 16 points in the second half and also handed out three assists.
Considering the fact that he was once again strapped with foul trouble in the first 20 minutes, Howell's second half performance was even more impressive. He knocked down a couple of key jumpers from the top of the key and scored 12 of his 14 points in the final 20 minutes. More importantly, he did it without fouling, which allowed him to stay on the court.
A Senior Night To Remember
Alex Johnson isn't a normal senior, but on Wednesday night, he had a night to remember in what could be his final home game with the Wolfpack. He scored only 5 points, but they all came at crucial times. On top of that, he dished out a game-high eight assists and didn't record a single turnover in 28 minutes.
It was a fitting end for Johnson, who has made a noticeable impact on his teammates despite only being in Raleigh for a few months. Mark Gottfried called Johnson's effort "huge."
"There was a stretch in there where I didn't want to take him out," Gottfried said. "He was doing so many things."
Looking at Miami's shooting performance (26-of-73 for 35%) might make some wonder how the ‘Canes stayed in the game. Aside from going 13-of-19 from deep, look no further than the offensive rebounding column in the box score. Miami was able to pull down 22 offensive rebounds on the night and score 21 second-chance points. The rebounding mixed with hot shooting are the two things that helped keep the ‘Canes in the game despite NC State's efficiency and hot shooting in the second half.
It's been a weird up and down with NC State recently on the defensive glass. Against Carolina, which has one of the best front courts in the entire country, the Wolfpack pulled down 18 offensive rebounds, scored 42 points in the paint and looked dominant in doing it. Miami's size and length in the front court bothered NC State's big men Wednesday, but if the Pack wants to continue a push to get back on the bubble, fixing the rebounding issues from the Miami game will be a must.
Free Throw Shooting
Despite shooting nearly 72 percent from the free throw line on the season, the Wolfpack have been horrible from the line recently. In its last three contests, State has shot just 61 percent from the stripe (32-of-52). Against Clemson, a 5-of-13 effort cost the Pack a win. It nearly did the same Wednesday against Miami.
Richard Howell missed two free throws with 16 seconds left and NC State up 74-73. Luckily for the Pack, Howell was able to tip the second miss to CJ Leslie, resulting in two more free throws for Lorenzo Brown (he made them to push State's lead to three). If Miami gets that rebound and hits a two or three to win the game, a poor night overall (14-of-26) would have been State's downfall once again.
Like the rebounding, this is an issue that must get corrected as State prepares for the ACC Tournament and postseason play.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
There are several names that would fit here, but once again, CJ Leslie's effort on both the offensive and defensive end gets the nod. Leslie picked up his second double-double in three games (UNC), tallying a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. He also recorded three blocks, two assists and a steal in 35 minutes. More importantly, Leslie had zero turnovers. It was probably his best effort of the entire year, and NC State needed every bit of it.
Mark Gottfried on NC State getting a win:
"I'm really proud of our team. I think that we're not dead yet and we still have a pulse. I think we've had some tough nights, and our team could have folded.
"We're showing some resilience and toughness against a team that was playing very well coming in here. Just the overall fact that our team has not quit and we've got a lot of fight in us, that's something that is good about our team."
NC State closes out the 2011-2012 regular season Sunday against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPNU. Virginia Tech travels to Clemson Thursday and is currently 4-10 in conference play. Following the regular season finale, the Wolfpack will travel to Atlanta next week for the ACC Tournament, which is being held at Philips Arena.