A Tough Battle

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In a matchup between wolves and panthers it was a Cat that was in complete control.

NC State will take on No. 2 Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament tonight after the Wolfpack, led by 34 points from Cat Barber, defeated Pittsburgh, 81-70, at the Greensboro Coliseum. The win improves State to 20-12 on the season, the fourth straight campaign the Pack has reached to 20-win plateau.

Barber scored 21 of his game-high 34 in the first half--also making all four of his three-point attempts--as NC State took a 14-point advantage in the locker room at intermission. Trevor Lacey scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half and Pittsburgh would not get closer eight after the break.

“The biggest thing was Cat’s speed,” NC State head coach Mark Gottfried told the media after the game. I thought they had trouble containing him and stopping his penetration. And then we got ahead and they tried to press us. At that point, it becomes really difficult to contain Cat.”

“You know, I look at Cat, and he has raised his game to another level.”

The Wolfpack, winners of six of its last seven games and playing terrific defensively of late, will collectively have to raise its game on Thursday against the Blue Devils. For Barber, that means knowing when to be aggressive and when to facilitate.

“The first half [against Pittsburgh] I had it going,” Barber said. “[In the second half] Trevor came in and hit some big shots, so we were giving him the ball. When he came in, he was hitting big shots... we knew it was time for me to step back.”

Duke is not the same team it was when the Wolfpack thumped the Blue Devils in Raleigh back in January. Rasheed Sulaimon is gone, Tyus Jones, like Barber, has improved significantly over the last two months. Quinn Cook could have, and perhaps should have, earned First Team All-ACC status.

By peaking in March, NC State has put itself in a good frame of mind heading into what will be the 25th matchup between the Triangle neighbors in ACC Tournament history.

“It's over now,” BeeJay Anya said of Wednesday’s victory. “We have to get ready for Duke. They are a really good team and are coached by one of the best coaches in college basketball... Coach K knows what he is doing.”

“They have good guards as well. Trevor and Cat, people have been trying to see who is the best backcourt duo in the ACC, with Tyus and Quinn. It is going to be a good battle, and hopefully we can put that to rest [Thursday].”

With a NCAA Tournament berth all but locked up, NC State now will look to take the next step on Thursday. The Wolfpack now have a chance to move into a higher tier nationally and also advance to the ACC Tournament semifinals for the fourth straight season. Anya feels State is equipped to take the climb the ladder.

“I think we are one of the best teams in the country,” Anya said. “We are playing our best basketball at the right time. Hopefully, we can come out [Thursday against Duke] and come out victorious."

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