NC State has been successful on the road this season in league play when they've been able to start fast, and they did that on Saturday.
The Wolfpack came out aggressive against the zone and in transition, and it began with T.J. Warren knocking down two early three-pointers. NC State shot 50% from the field in the first half, hitting 15-of-30 shot attempts to build a ten-point halftime lead.
"We have had two really good practices after a really bad game at Clemson," said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. "We had a lot of energy the last two days and it carried over.
"I thought our energy level was really high. We were aggressive and I thought that was important to start the way we did."
Sharing The Wealth
NC State did an outstanding job of taking care of the basketball and sharing it in the win over Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack totaled fifteen assists with just seven turnovers. It's very impressive anytime a team can have a 2:1+ assist/turnover ratio.
Sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis led the way, as shredded Virginia Tech's halfcourt defense, particularly in the first half when he totaled nine assists. Lewis finished the game with a career-high 11 assists and zero turnovers.
"Tyler was the main reason for that, 11 assists and no turnovers," said Gottfried. "Not a lot of guys in America could get that. They don't get that.
"He played a phenomenal floor game."
NC State is now 14-2 this season when they have more assists than turnovers, with the two losses coming to Syracuse and Missouri.
Defending The Hokies
For the most part, NC State locked up the Hokies.
Tech was terrible from the field in the first half, hitting just 7-of-22 shot attempts, and while they shot better in the second half (55%) it was negated because State limited them to just 20 shot attempts. For the game the Hokies hit 18-of-42 shots (42.9%) and 6-of-18 3-pointers (33.3%)
"We kind of slowed down late but our defense pulled out the win," said Warren.
NC State was really strong in the paint, limiting Tech to just 22 paint points (while scoring 38).
Mark Gottfried was disappointed in his frontcourt's rebounding performance in the loss to Clemson, and he obviously made them aware of it leading up to Virginia Tech game.
Kyle Washington, Jordan Vandenberg, Lennard Freeman, and BeeJay Anya combined for 18 total rebounds, including 10 offensive.
While Virginia Tech posted more rebounds as a team (+8) they had more chances to do so with State attempting 22 more shots. Also, when the Hokies did grab offensive rebounds (12), the Pack bigs limited their conversions around the rim, holding Tech to just nine second-chance points.
"Our big guys rebounded the ball," said Gottfried. "Our four interior guys played 64 total minutes at Clemson and got three [rebounds] between them. Today, I think we got 18 out of that group. That was a big difference for us."
Outside of T.J. Warren, it seemed like no one could hit many shots from deep, especially behind the three-point line.
Virginia Tech even resorted to a Triangle-and-Two on Warren and Ralston Turner late because they wanted to limit the duo while putting pressure on State's other perimeter players, Tyler Lewis, Desmond Lee, and Cat Barber, to hit shots.
As a group, NC State hit just 4-of-24 3-point attempts, as Lewis, Barber, Turner, and Lee combined to go 2-of-18.
Moving forward, the Wolfpack has to be able to hit perimeter shots because teams are going to sag off and focus even more on Warren if State can't make them pay.
Free Throw Shooting
It's been an issue for State much of the season and it continued on Saturday, as the Wolfpack hit just 15-of-25 free throw attempts (60%), which included several misses in the last couple of minutes while trying to close out the game.
A bright spot for NC State was that Virginia Tech wasn't any better. In fact, they were worse, hitting just 22-of-37 tries from the line (59.5%).
NC State probably made this game closer than it needed to be.
Leading by seven with two minutes to go, the Wolfpack had two turnovers, fouled Virginia Tech four times, and missed three free throws. The Hokies weren't able to really capitalize, as State still won by seven, but better teams will make you pay for late miscues (see at Syracuse).
Gottfried seemed really bothered by the fouls.
"The only thing I did not like is we fouled them a couple times (late in the game)," he stated. "T.J. fouled them with 15 seconds on the shot clock and then Desmond fouled them 80 feet away from the basket. We put them on the foul line with using any clock.
"Overall it was good, but the fouls a couple times late is something we need to learn from."
+/- is essentially the points scored by a team minus the points allowed by a team while a certain player is on the floor.
So, as you can see below, Tyler Lewis had a +/- of +10. That means NC State outscored Virginia Tech by 10 points with Lewis on the floor. BeeJay Anya was -5... State was outscored by five points when Anya was on the floor.
BeeJay Anya: -5
Desmond Lee: +4
Tyler Lewis: +10
Lennard Freeman: +6
Jordan Vandenberg: +7
T.J. Warren: +9
Cat Barber: 0
Ralston Turner: +5
Kyle Washington: -1
PLAYER OF THE GAME
T.J. Warren was outstanding.
He set the tone early with two deep 3-pointers against Virginia Tech's zone, and his efficiency opened up looks for others as the Hokies had to pay even more attention to him.
However, that didn't stop Warren from getting his numbers. He scored a game-high 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting and also had six rebounds. His four steals were more than Virginia Tech had as a team (3).
"[T.J. Warren] just does so much to help our team," sai Gottfried. "We take for granted sometimes the fact that he can pick it out of there and get a steal, get a defensive rebound or offensive rebound.
"He is a tough player to defend. You can try all kinds of stuff, he just finds a way. Terrific job by him today."
STAT OF THE GAME
NC State was able to force 17 turnovers while having just seven themselves, but more importantly they turned those 17 turnovers into 19 points while yielding just six points off turnovers to the Hokies. That +13 advantage was huge for the Wolfpack.
NC State Head Coach Mark Gottfried:
"We are playing a game on Wednesday that most people I am sure think we are going to get beat by 20 or so. North Carolina is the hottest team in America. Nobody is playing hotter than North Carolina right now.
"This is classic David and Goliath. We have probably got no shot in most everybody's eyes, but our guys are going to be really excited about it. It is going to be fun."