With a potentially critical stretch in the conference season approaching, NC State is going to need everything it can get from its frontcourt to counter a 0-2 start in the ACC. Abdul-Malik Abu is emerging as a player that can be counted on to contribute.
Abu is quietly putting up solid numbers for NC State, and the sophomore is doing it despite averaging only slightly above 25 minutes per game.
The 6-foot-8-inch forward from Boston enters Sunday’s showdown with Wake Forest averages 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds (3.2 offensive rebounds) per contest. In the Wolfpack’s loss to No. 16 Louisville on Thursday, Abu finished with his eighth career double-double (15 points and 12 rebounds) and sixth this season.
It is easy with the stellar play of junior point guard Cat Barber to overlook Abu’s contribution, but he has been steady since a tough two-game stretch earlier in the season where he scored four points and hauled in only four rebounds against Winthrop and Michigan.
NC State head coach Mark Gottfried is noticing.
“He has played like that pretty consistently for the last six or seven games now,” Gottfried said after the Louisville contest. “He has had a number of double-doubles and was close the other night [versus Virginia Tech]."
For Abu, the return to form was simply about handling his business and not being the type of player that stresses over what is out of his hands.
“It is about doing everything in your control,” Abu said. “Sometimes shots won’t go in and sometimes a ref will make a call but if you go out there and you work hard it is always going to be to your benefit.”
Barber leads the conference in scoring at 22.7 points per game but Gottfried wants more scoring production in the interior from his post players. Abu is one weapon he would like to see utilized more.
“I think he is just getting better,” Gottfried said. “I think he is improving. Guys are having a lot of confidence in him going in there. I want the ball to go in there more. That is more of a point of emphasis for me. He is stepping up for us."
Beginning Sunday at Wake Forest, the Wolfpack has a grueling five-game stretch that includes games at No. 6 North Carolina and a home tilt with No. 14 Duke.
After trailing by 16 with less than four minutes remaining against Louisville on Thursday, NC State rallied to close the deficit to three points with 17 seconds to go before falling short.
With that in mind and the knowledge of what lies ahead, Abu is going to keep it simple on the court and remains confident in his team.
“I just try to go out every game and work as hard as I can,” Abu said. “We are just going to try to turn the corner. We know what we are capable of.”