Fade-away jumper – check. Spin move to get to the rim, sure. Find the holes in the zone to get open looks – no problem. Steal and draw a foul, then bury both free throws - done. He finished the half with 16 points while Northwestern finished with 20, and at one point early in the second half Northwestern was only outpacing him by two points. Warren finished with ‘only' 22 points for the game, taking just five shots in the second half as the Pack rolled to an easy win.
"I looked up there at the scoreboard and saw that TJ had 20 and the other team had 22, so it looks like the game is going well for him," Tyler Lewis said.
Warren came into the season with huge expectations – the only major contributor returning on a team that lost its four other starters. Warren has, to date, exceeded those expectations. He's averaging better than 22 points and seven rebounds a game for a Pack team that has needed a stabilizing offensive presence. His performance on Wednesday night earned him high praise from Northwestern head coach, and former Duke assistant, Chris Collins.
"You watch him on film and he just has a knack for finding that open area and cutting and moving without the ball. He scores in a lot of ways," Collins said. "He can post. He can shoot it. He's a great cutter. He gets to the foul line. He'll be one of the leading scorers, if not the leading scorer, in the ACC this year."
What's been so remarkable about Warren's early season scoring output is how efficient he's been at it. While on the court, Warren is taking 34 percent of the Pack's shot. To put that in some perspective, Erick Green was a one man show for Virginia Tech last year and took 33 percent of his team's shots while on the court. He currently ranks 32nd in the country and 2nd in the conference (behind Jabari Parker) in terms of percentage of shots taken while on the court.
And yet, despite the Pack offense leaning so heavily on the sophomore forward, he's managed to shoot over 60 percent from inside the arc (he's struggled slightly beyond the 3-point line shooting under 30 percent). And after a somewhat rough start at the free-throw line he's now shooting over 73 percent from the charity stripe. Warren has been over the first handful of games the rare combination of prolific and efficient – he is the small forward version of what Green accomplished last year on the way to winning ACC Player of the Year.
"I think what he's done is he knows he's the leader now," Collins said. "He knows he's the guy and he's playing great."
Warren has managed to carry that heavy offensive burden while also contributing on the boards and taking care of the ball remarkably well. He's turned the ball over on just eight percent of his possessions, a figure that ranks him in the top five in the ACC. Granted, Warren isn't doing a lot of ball handling for the Pack but considering how many touches he gets in the game, that's still impressive ball security.
Unlike Green, Warren has a talented supporting cast that is capable of contributing offensively when Warren isn't hitting. The second half showed encouraging signs that Warren won't necessarily have to continue carrying a Herculean offensive burden all season. Ralston Turner broke out of his slump to score 13 points and hit a trio of 3-pointers, while both Jordan Vandenberg and Lennard Freeman contributed double-digit efforts. The supporting players will probably rotate throughout the year, but to bring up the Green comparison once more – this is a team with other pieces that are able to contribute offensively.
"We are just finding ourselves right now – TJ has already found himself, that's obvious," Vandenberg said. "I'm coming into my own, Lennard is coming into his own – we get a couple of players off the bench like Tyler and Ralston played well today."