Defense Wins It
On a night where the normally efficient offense struggled to get going, the Wolfpack clamped down and defended Tennessee about as well as you can.
State held the Vols to just 29.4% shooting from the field and an abysmal 12.5% (3-of-24) from behind the three-point line. The Pack big men defended the rim and the guards pressured the ball effectively while also rotating to shooters on the perimeter.
It was easily the best defensive effort of the season for State, as they limited Tennessee's big three of Jarnell Stokes, Jordan McRae, and Jeronne Maymon to just 15-of-43 shooting from the field. The rest of the Vols... 5-of-25. Ouch.
"What we tried to do all week was work on fronting the post and get great weakside help, not allow the ball go in," said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. "We wanted great ball pressure on the perimeter, make the passer have difficult angles to see the post, and get our hands active. We were pretty good there."
Pack Bigs Step Up
Tennessee's frontcourt of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon came in with a lot of hype, and rightfully so. The duo averaged a combined 26.0 points and 16.9 rebounds.
While the Pack's frontcourt of Jordan Vandenberg, Lennard Freeman, BeeJay Anya, and Kyle Washington didn't match them point-for-point, they certainly made Stokes and Maymon earn everything.
State's bigs totaled just 17 points, but did so on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting while also grabbing 20 boards and blocking an astounding 12 shots.
"I liked the fact that we were able to bother those guys," Gottfried said of defending Stokes and Maymon. "For the most part, they just didn't kill us inside like I thought they had the potential to do."
NC State knew if they had any chance of defeating Tennessee they had to be competitive with the Vols on the glass.
Tennessee is one of the nation's best rebounding teams, as they rank fifth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (.430) and 11th nationally in offensive rebounds per game (15.4). The Vols were +8 on the season rebounding... it's where they excel.
The Wolfpack more than held their own and did so as a team. Small forward T.J. Warren led the way with 11 boards, and NC State finished +2 on the glass (43-41) and although they allowed 20 offensive rebounds it didn't matter because they equaled the Volunteers in second-chance points (16-16).
Rebounding is often about effort and toughness, and Gottfried saw that from his team.
"We came in here and showed some confidence and played with confidence," he said. "That's a sign of good things for these young guys."
The Wolfpack had problems taking care of the basketball in Knoxville, and that hasn't been an issue this season.
The 16 turnovers were a season-high, and to make matters worse they only totaled eight assists, six less than their season average.
The turnovers were often unforced as well... multiple traveling violations and palming calls that prevented potential scoring opportunities which could have put the game away even earlier.
Even more concerning is the 16 turnovers come just days after the Pack had 15 miscues in a win over Detroit. Gottfried can't like that his team has had 31 turnovers in two games.
The Pack jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead by shooting 15-of-30 from the field against a very good defensive team. State moved the ball, pushed tempo, and took good shots within the offense.
However, that seemed to change for much of the second half. The offense became stagnant with too much dribbling and standing around on the perimeter. There was very little cutting and it seemed like the Pack settled for too many contested shots, either at the rim or outside of the paint.
NC State hit just 9-of-24 shots from the field in the final 20 minutes. What helped them is they managed to make some big baskets down the stretch (mainly T.J. Warren and Desmond Lee) that stalled Volunteer runs.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
T.J. Warren was terrific.
The sophomore forward finished with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field. He added a team-high 11 rebounds and two steals, but did also have five turnovers.
What Warren did best was make impactful plays when his team needed him to do so. Tennessee cut the lead to five with just over eight minutes remaining... Warren had a breakaway dunk. Inside of four minutes and the shot clock is running down... Warren hit a tough baseline jumper over a defender to put State back up nine.
He did what stars are supposed to do.
STAT OF THE GAME
12. NC State had 12 blocks in the game, a season-high. Leading the way was freshman center BeeJay Anya, who had five blocks in 24 minutes of action.
"Another guy that really stepped up and was valuable tonight was BeeJay Anya," said Gottfried. "Terrific... blocked five shots, played 24 minutes. He just leaned on Stokes all night. Those two guys just kind of wrestled in there all night."
"I'm really proud because what I liked about our young guys was they came in here and were fearless... it's a good win for our team and I'm very excited for our players."