Balanced Scoring Continues
Thirteen games into the season, it's become abundantly clear that this NC State team isn't afraid to spread the wealth on the offensive end of the court. Whether it's the more experienced core of the team or freshmen Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren, the points have come from several places. On Monday against UNCG, that trend once again held true, as five players finished in double figures.
C.J. Leslie scored 21 to lead the way, and Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood each scored 15. Freshman T.J. Warren scored 13, and Richard Howell tallied 11 to go with a team-high 13 rebounds.
As a team, the Wolfpack finished with 19 assists on 32 made baskets. Mark Gottfried said the team has steadily improved during the first third of the season.
"I think our young guys have improved and they understand a lot more what we're doing," he said. "I think defensively we can be better, but we are getting better."
Getting Defensive Leads to Decisive Run
While NC State had little trouble scoring in the first half against the Spartans, the Wolfpack did have issues stopping UNCG from scoring in its half court offense. At the under-4 timeout, NC State's lead was 35-32. Following that break, however, the Pack began a run that would spill over into the second half and help them build a comfortable lead which allowed them to cruise for much of the final 10 minutes.
During the nearly 10-minute spurt, NC State outscored UNCG 25-10 and used intensified ball pressure to generate four turnovers and five layups or dunks. Following the run, the Pack led 60-42 with 13:44 left in the second half. The Spartans never got closer than 12 in the final 13+ minutes.
Moving into conference play, Gottfried and his players noted that the defensive effort the Pack showed late in the first half and early in the second will have to become the rule more than the exception to it.
"You have to come in committed to stopping the person we're guarding and helping and helping the helper," senior Scott Wood said. "We're going to have to do that to be successful in the league."
We Call That A Winning Streak
For the first time since 2008, NC State has a 7-game winning streak. Considering some of the competition in the last three weeks, many probably expected this sort of run, but it's novelty wasn't lost on NC State's players.
Lorenzo Brown, who scored 15 points and dished out 9 assists, commented on it directly, saying he couldn't remember winning this many games in a row since he's been in Raleigh. He can't remember because it hasn't happened. For one reason or another, the Wolfpack have been unable to string win streaks together, even against weaker competition in the non-conference schedule.
No way to know if this is a sign of things to come for this year's team, but it can't be a bad thing headed into ACC play.
Defensive Rebounding Problems Continue
It's been discussed before and it'll be discussed again, but defensive rebounding continues to be an issue for the Wolfpack. On Monday, it appeared to be a combination of long bounces off misses and an inconsistent effort by NC State guards and wings to stay back and secure the ball before looking to run.
The Spartans pulled down offensive rebounds on 15 of their 38 misses, good for nearly 40 percent, and tallied 15 second-chance points. Sure, NC State rebounded when it had to and ended up winning by 21 points, but it was the poor defensive rebounding that allowed UNCG to stay in the game in the first half. Against good teams with bigger, stronger post players, that sort of effort will likely result in halftime deficits instead of slim margins.
The trend hasn't gone unnoticed by Gottfried, who said his team will have to focus more on finishing defensive possessions once it begins facing league opponents.
"We've had a couple of games where we've allowed teams to turn offensive rebounds into baskets on us too often... we've just got to be a better rebounding team, period," he said. "There are a lot of angles to that. Our bigs have to block out better. Our guards have to quit leaking out. We've just got to rebound better."
One person who could help that is 7-footer Jordan Vandenberg, who didn't see any action against the Spartans. Gottfried said he expects Vandenberg to play more against league teams that have bigger post players, saying "I believe in him, and we're going to need him."
Without a doubt, increased defensive effort was important in helping NC State pull away from UNCG early in the second half, but overall, the defensive performance was less than impressive. Too often the Wolfpack failed to hedge hard enough on ball screens or push left-hander Kayel Locke (21 points) to his right.
Again, by scoring 89 points and shooting 53 percent from the field, NC State made those lapses in defensive intensity largely irrelevant by game's end. Moving forward, one has to wonder when that will no longer be the case?
At some point, NC State will have a poor shooting night, or a night when its offensive efficiency doesn't meet season averages. On those nights, especially if they come against better teams, there has to be concern over whether the Pack can defend well enough for long enough to win games.
Gottfried and his players discussed that very thing post-game, saying it will take the entire team focusing on defense for it to improve.
"There are some guys that are playing great defense, but others that are not," Lorenzo Brown said. "We need to get all on the same page. I think it's all of the above, no help sometimes, no hedging on screens. We just have to work on it."
Player Of The Game
Once again, Brown ran the show with impressive efficiency in NC State's win. The junior scored 15 points, handed out 9 assists, pulled down 3 rebounds and tallied 3 steals while only turning the ball over twice in 31 minutes.
In NC State's last five wins, which have been by an average of 17 points, Brown is averaging 14.4 points, 7 assists and only 2.6 turnovers in 32 minutes per game. He's also shot 60 percent from the field over that same stretch and recorded 2.6 steals per game.
Other players have scored more points and grabbed more rebounds, but Brown is continuing to show his value as the person responsible for running NC State's high-post offense.
Stat Of The Game
NC State's hot shooting has gotten plenty of attention through the first third of the season, and with good reason. The Wolfpack lead the nation in field goal percentage, shooting better than 53 percent from the field. On Monday, State finished 32-of-60 from the field against the Spartans, good for 53.3 percent.
Mark Gottfried on UNCG freshman Kayel Locke's 21 points and 7 rebounds: "We made him look like an All-American."