Closing in on the voting for ACC Player of the Year, T.J. Warren had a signature performance. It wasn't just that he scored a career-high 41 points, a Peterson Event Center record, but it was how he did it.
"It's interesting, T.J. Warren gets 41 points, but it's an unselfish 41," said Mark Gottfried after the game. "He shot 16-for-22 from the field... he's not taking bad shots."
"Our guards did a pretty good job of swinging the ball around the top of the key," added Warren. "Also, Lennard (Freeman) set some great screens for me. Again, this was an all-around effort by our team."
Warren knocked down 16-of-22 shots and seemed to hit a huge jumper anytime Pitt appeared to be gaining momentum. He scored 26 points in the second half on 10-of-12 shooting from the field.
"When we were in man, we double teamed him," said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. "We haven't used that often, but we did practice in both games prior to playing them. He got transition baskets, offensive rebound baskets and he got to the foul line. Some of the threes he hit at the end of the clock in the zone were a couple of tough shots.
"The guy is very good, and we didn't do the job. With that, it's a guy getting 41 points who had 36 last week. We couldn't have talked about it more with him being [the] guy but yet early on it seemed like we didn't know he was at 24 points. I was surprised that we could not understand that this was the guy [that's] going to score. He had all their points to start the game, and I have to do a better job."
Pack Cleans The Glass
NC State made MAJOR strides rebounding and completely dominated Pittsburgh in that category.
Not only did the Wolfpack outrebound the Panthers by 12, they held them to zero second-chance points while scoring 16 of their own.
"We had to play without turning the ball over and the other thing was rebounding the ball," said Gottfried. "(Talib) Zanna went for 17 points and 14 rebounds down at Raleigh and tonight they only got two offensive rebounds, which is almost unheard of with Jaime's (Dixon) teams. They're really good on the glass, and I thought our ability to rebound the ball and not turn it over were big for our team."
"We have been stressing the rebound all year long and when we come up short, that is the thing that has stood out to me," added Dixon. "Sometimes our guys don't recognize it and other people don't recognize it and obviously tonight we set records with our least amount of numbers.
"I don't know how we can get two offensive rebounds, and I don't know how we can come up with 23. I take full responsibility for that."
Pitt's 23 total rebounds is the fewest-ever by a Panther team coached by Jamie Dixon.
It wasn't really pretty early on, but the Pack's offensive rebounding kept them in the game until they could find some rhythm offensively.
NC State trailed by five points at the break, but shot 57.7% from the field and had 12 of their 15 assists with just two turnovers in the second half. Cat Barber had all five of his assists, and they all did a great job of finding T.J. Warren in scoring position, against the zone or man.
"Well, I came out pretty aggressive tonight and my teammates did a good job of finding me in the open floor," said Warren. "As a team, we executed our offense effectively. So, all credit for this performance goes to my teammates."
"Our guys did a great job executing our offense and hunting for [Warren] because he had the hot hand," added Gottfried.
Closing The Deal
What made this win special, and promising for NC State, is they didn't fade down the stretch. It was a one-possession game inside of a minute, like at Wake Forest, at Syracuse, and against North Carolina, all losses, but this time the Wolfpack made a play.
They got the defensive stop needed to not only maintain the lead and then also build on it. Looking back, that was the case, not only in the final minute, but also much of the second half.
The Wolfpack took the lead for the first time at the 13:04 mark on a Warren jumper and never trailed again. Three times the Panthers cut the lead to one point and each time NC State answered on their next possession with a basket: a dunk by BeeJay Anya, and three-pointers from Warren and Ralston Turner.
"Even though T.J. scored 41, it was still a great team win because so many other guys did things," said Gottfried. "My message to our guys has been that we're not that far off... we have to finish better.
"Whether that's making the right defensive play at the end of the game, executing your offense, making a foul shot, knocking down an open shot. That was our message in every timeout. We've got to finish, and they did it. I'm very proud of them."
NC State had a gameplan to limit Pitt's paint scoring and slashing drives, which they did, but the Panthers then started to knock down 3-pointers. They shot 59.1% and hit 6-of-11 3-pointers in the first half.
"It was frustrating, but I wanted to stay with our plan," said Gottfried. "I said let's stay with our plan, even at halftime... we just need to get one more step closer to a shooter. I didn't want us to get spread out defensively.
"We protected the paint a little bit better and we gave up some three's, but I just felt if we stayed with our plan we'd be alright."
Leading the way for Pitt was freshman point guard Josh Newkirk, a Raleigh (NC) native, who scored 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. He also hit all five of his three-point attempts.
"It surprised us, definitely caught us off guard a little bit," said Gottfried. "5-for-5 from the three, he played terrific tonight and you have to give him credit... that was a bit of a surprise."
Free Throw Shooting
Different game, same problem.
The Pack's free throw shooting woes continued, as they hit just 15-of-25 attempts (60%). The bright side for them was Pitt didn't do much better, hitting only 15 of their 23 attempts (65.2%).
Free throw shooting has arguably cost NC State multiple games this season.
+/- 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, Cat Barber had a +/- of +15. That means NC State outscored Pittsburgh by 15 points with Barber on the floor. Tyler Lewis was -8... State was outscored by 8 points when Lewis was on the floor.
Tyler Lewis: -8
Desmond Lee: +4
BeeJay Anya: +3
Lennard Freeman: +8
Cat Barber: +15
Jordan Vandenberg: -4
Kyle Washington: +5
Ralston Turner: +9
T.J. Warren: +3
PLAYER OF THE GAME
T.J. Warren finished the game with 41 points, five rebounds, three assists, four steals, a block, and held Pitt senior Cameron Wright, who averages over 11 points per game, scoreless.
It was the scoring, and how efficiently that he did it, that paced the Wolfpack.
"The important thing for me is to pick and choose my spots against the defense," said Warren.
"I take full responsibility for a guy getting 41 points on us," Dixon said after the game. "We tried different defenses and we tried to double him at the end. The foul trouble at the end left us with very little guys to go. Warren played well and made shots. Zone wasn't effective in stopping him either as he got inside on it."
STAT OF THE GAME
A team that has routinely given up double-digit second-chance points, NC State held Pittsburgh to zero second-chance points while limiting them to two offensive rebounds.
"I thought our guys just had a mindset to go get it," said Gottfried. "At the half they didn't have an offensive rebound. Our guys did a nice job. We adjusted our defense and protected the paint better than we did a couple of nights ago and that helped us get in better position to rebound the ball."
"We're not dead yet. I know a lot of people thought we were dead. They were ready to put a fork in us, but our kids played with great purpose."