Another Grinder?

The word "grinder" is popular with N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried. The oft-used adjective popped up again from the third-year coach on Saturday after the Wolfpack outlasted Miami 56-55 at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables.

"That was kind of a grinder," Gottfried remarked after defeating the defending ACC champions on Saturday. "It was an important win for us, very important. I am very proud of my team. I thought it was a tough, gutsy win."

Gottfried could be excused if he was slightly redundant in the initial portion of his opening statement. It was exactly the type of road performance, particularly down the stretch, that N.C. State has not seen since holding off Notre Dame in South Bend back in early January.

At 15-8 overall and 5-5 in the ACC, N.C. State is the definition of a bubble team. There are three notable things that stood out in the win Saturday that could play a factor not only in the Pack's game at home against Wake Forest on Tuesday but in all of its remaining eight regular season games.

N.C. State has turned to a smaller lineup at times in recent weeks. It certainly benefited the Pack in its unlikely come-from-behind win at home over Maryland on Jan. 20, but it has its setbacks as well. State is getting hammered on the boards when it plays three guards and moves T.J. Warren to the four position.

Miami's best offense in the second half was to simply throw the ball up to the goal and then go get it following the miss. Holding teams to 30-40 percent shooting is nullified when the opposition is consistently getting two and three opportunities at the basket each possession.

Wake Forest has a player quite familiar to Gottfried and the Wolfpack in sophomore forward Devin Thomas, who killed State with rebounding in Wake's win in Winston-Salem last season when the Pack had a deeper frontline. Richard Howell is not walking through that door for N.C. State. Thomas, along with sophomore forward Arnaud William Adala Moto, who secured a double-double against Duke in the Deacons' last outing, will be a handful.

Scoring Distribution
Having Warren and Ralston Turner score 44 of the team's 56 points on Saturday was necessary for the Pack to win, but N.C. State will need better production, or at least some production at all, from others if it is to make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.

In State's stirring comeback win over Maryland, when Warren was out injured, Desmond Lee produced mightily for the Pack. Cat Barber has spent most of the season averaging around double-figures scoring and Kyle Washington has also had some shining moments. The time has come for others to step up.

While this squad is always going to depend on Warren and his ACC-leading 22.6 points per contest, the Pack will need some production on a consistent basis from others.

End-Of-Game Situations
When State lost to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, the Pack performed poorly on the final possession--regardless of how many steps it took for the Deacons to make the game-winning shot.

N.C. State was able to prevail in Coral Gables despite waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the game to resume after Washington was fouled with 1.8 seconds remaining. Turner and Washington missing late free throws. The Pack also dodged a bullet when Washington almost mauled a Hurricane player that was attempting a 70-foot game-winner.

While the Wolfpack is a young team, the season is now well into its third month. As games get into the latter stages, Gottfried will need his team to limit its careless mistakes and keep dribble penetration to a minimum.

Fortunately, State has produced in the clutch at home in its wins over Maryland and Georgia Tech. After Wake's visit Tuesday, the Pack will have three home games left out of seven remaining in the regular season. A NCAA Tournament bid is at stake every time N.C. State's takes the court.

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