Cat Barber showed an assertive side to his game that has been dormant for most of the season on Saturday. It could not have come at a better time for NC State, as the Wolfpack used Barber’s sensational play, along with Trevor Lacey’s game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer, to defeat Georgia Tech, 81-80, in overtime at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.
The much-needed victory ended a three-game losing streak for State, who improved to 14-9 overall and 5-5 in ACC play. The Pack faces a quick turnaround and will travel to Winston-Salem to face in-state foe Wake Forest on Tuesday.
Barber finished the game with 23 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals while committing only one turnover. He nearly matched his season total in made three-pointers, connecting on four-of-five behind the arc after entering the contest five-for-20 on the season.
"It was the best game he has played," NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said afterwards. "Seven assists, one turnover, and then tonight he is making the shot. He had a great game. I am very proud of Cat."
The outburst from Barber in Atlanta was a welcome response for the Wolfpack after the sophomore guard was benched for the previous two games. After a head-scratching loss to Clemson at home on Wednesday, the team got together the next day to sort its issues.
"We had a team meeting where we discussed a whole lot of things," Barber said. "[It was] about what we needed from each other and what is expected. Everybody has to step up a notch.
"My team felt like I need to step up and score with the ball more for us to win. Also, get people in position to score with the ball, so they just talked about it, coach just took me aside and said, 'It is your time.'"
"It was the whole team," Barber added. "Everybody just decided to sit and we needed to discuss how we are going to go forward this season without us losing."
One thing that has not wavered over the course of the season has been the confidence that Gottfried and the team have in Barber. Lacey was not surprised to see him play impressively as the Pack heads into February with NCAA tournament aspirations.
"He can do that every night," Lacey said. "When he plays like that—using his speed and quickness to his advantage and creating for others—when he does that we will have a chance every night to be very special."
"I have been going through a lot with family issues," Barber conceded. "I didn’t let it get to me in this game. Coach was telling to go out and 'Be you. Do you,' and that is what I did in this game."
Going forward, NC State gets some breaks in February. After the game at Wake Forest, the Wolfpack will play only three games over 19 days before the final push to end the regular season. Barber feels his performance against the Yellow Jackets is what it will take to keep State going into March.
"When I am aggressive and I am playing how I am supposed to I think it just keys the team," he said. "When I am getting everybody involved, I just think we are a much better team."