Establishing An Identity

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The arena, the opponent and the ambiance were all different. The path to victory, however, was an exact replica.

As it did at Clemson on Tuesday, NC State used a stifling defense and a remarkably comprehensive run keyed by a second half scoring outburst from senior Ralston Turner to defeat Syracuse, 71-57, at PNC Arena on Saturday.

With the win, the Wolfpack finish the regular season 19-12 and have earned a 7-seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. State will take on Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in its tournament opener in the Greensboro Coliseum.

Buoyed by a 27-2 run that began prior to intermission and extended well into the second half, NC State pulled away from the Orange in a game it needed to increase its leverage as Selection Sunday creeps closer. The Pack has been forced to sweat it out in recent seasons as the brackets were being announced, but State is now playing some its best basketball at an important time of the year.

Trailing by six at Clemson, the Wolfpack seemingly decided it would not allow the Tigers to score anymore until the game was out of reach.

With NC State down by eight in the first half to the Orange, the zone defense that is a staple of Jim Boeheim's teams was able to clutter things for the first 16 minutes and the Pack's offense plodded up and down the court.

Keyed by the dazzling speed of Cat Barber, State simply blazed a trail to the basket and Syracuse--looking like a team in the second half that just wanted its woes on and off the court to end--capitulated without even so much as a chance to set up its vaunted defense.

Turner exploded at an opportune time at Clemson, with 21 of his 23 points coming after halftime. On his Senior Day, the NC State graduate scored all 19 of his points in the second half as the Wolfpack led by as many as 20 points en route to the win.

At Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday, the closest thing to controversy was the use of fireworks indoors after the game as the school was celebrating the pending renovations of its basketball arena during the 2015-16 season.

Syracuse came to Raleigh oozing off-the-court narrative. The Orange will be squeezed over the next five years after the NCAA announced sanctions for long-term improprieties on Friday. A team that was going nowhere this season suddenly and somehow actually faced an even cloudier future.

Until the final media timeout of the first half, it looked like Boeheim may coax his team to go out with a bang. Instead, it was left in the dust by Barber-figuratively and literally--and simply could not cope with Turner from the perimeter.

NC State will now begin the postseason having won five of its last six games. The lone defeat, a perplexing loss at Boston College, at first seemed like the continuance of a post-rivalry hangover syndrome that has plagued the Wolfpack over the years.

It may actually be the trip to face the Eagles that was an aberration.

The Pack responded with back-to-back wins and have held four of the last six opponents to less than 37.5% shooting from the field.

With its recent defensive surge, along with the second half production of Turner and continued growth of Barber, NC State is peaking at the best possible time.

Not only are the arenas, opposition and the climate different in its two wins during the past week, the Wolfpack also enters its conference tournament with a dramatic shift from where it was in February.

NC State is no longer a team on the bubble and has plenty of momentum while establishing an identity.

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