Junior Trevor Lacey finished with 21 points, including a free throw with 9.2 seconds remaining to give the Wolfpack a four-point lead, as NC State held off South Florida, 68-65, in PNC Arena to improve to 4-0 on the season.
The win marked the first time the Pack has been victorious in its first four games of a campaign since Mark Gottfried was named head coach.
The Wolfpack led by 11 points with 2:57 remaining in the game after senior Desmond Lee made two free throws. Then the adventures from the charity stripe began. NC State closed out the contest converting only three of its final eight from the line and did not make a field goal over the final 4:08 of the game.
South Florida held NC State to 37.3 percent from the floor for the game and the Wolfpack connected on 20-of-30 free throws overall.
“I think we have to play a lot better than we did today, especially down the stretch,” Gottfried said. “Sometimes if you make foul shots, the game kind of ends a little bit easier. That was disappointing today that we didn’t do a good job from the foul line.”
Barber also finished in double-figures scoring with 10 points. Sophomore BeeJay Anya, in his first college start, also increased his ACC-leading blocked shot total to 19 with five rejections.
“We have got to do better,” Barber said. “I think we held our ground and won. One person is not always going to be on. We all had our little spurts. Our team has a variety of players.”
NC State jumped out early by scoring eight of the first nine points of the contest. Although South Florida never led, the Wolfpack never could shake the Bulls. USF cut the deficit to within two on four occasions in the first half.
Redshirt senior Ralston Turner hit a jumper with less than 16 minutes remaining to extend NC State’s advantage to nine points. The Bulls battled back and trailed by four with 12:30 left. Sophomore Kyle Washington, who was not in the starting lineup for the first time since January 4th against Pittsburgh, scored all eight of his points over a three-minute stretch to push the advantage back to eight.
“One thing Kyle can do is make some baskets,” Gottfried said. “I actually wanted to play Kyle a little bit more. I like the fact that, although Kyle didn’t play for a long stretch, he came in and he wasn’t affected mentality. He didn’t pout and just came in and played. I thought he made some big baskets.”
With Thanksgiving approaching, NC State will bookend the holiday with home games against Richmond on Wednesday and Boise State on Friday.
“We have not had a close call like that this year,” Lacey said of the Pack’s narrow escape. “It is good to have that game with the stretch we have coming up. We have to execute towards the end, finish and make our free throws.”