Observations From The Game: Pittsburgh

Here are some thoughts and observations on NC State's 78-61 win over No. 20 Pittsburgh.

NC State snapped a five-game losing stretch with a remarkably comprehensive, 78-61, win at No. 20 Pittsburgh Tuesday. The Wolfpack improved to 11-8 overall and 1-5 in the ACC with the victory.

Cat Barber shrugged off some turnover issues to finish with 31 points on 8-18 shooting from the floor along with a perfect 14-14 effort from the free throw line. The junior point guard also tallied eight assists and seven rebounds.

The Wolfpack also received fine production down low from Abdul-Malik Abu (16 points and 10 rebounds) along with solid work off the bench from Lennard Freeman (4 points and 14 rebounds).  Freshman wing Maverick Rowan returned to his hometown to score 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the floor (4-of-6 from three-point range).

Overall, it was a huge win for Mark Gottfried’s team on several levels. NC State now will begin a three-game stretch at home on Saturday against No. 12/20 Duke.

It is true that Cat Barber finished with eight turnovers. While it might be a little loose for Gottfried’s liking, Barber’s play was what made NC State go against Pittsburgh. Simply put, the Wolfpack dominated a ranked team on the road and it was a Cat that preyed on the Panthers. 

Barber’s success against Pittsburgh accentuated how important it is for him to not only drive to the basket but to also draw contact so he can get to the free throw line -- both of which was lacking in NC State’s loss to North Carolina on Saturday.

* NC State destroyed Pittsburgh on the boards, finishing with a 46-30 advantage. Freeman led the way with 14 rebounds off the bench... more than Gottfried could have hoped for. Abu mixed it up inside and once again finished with a double-double. If the Wolfpack gets anything of significance from its frontcourt then it can compete with most teams in the ACC and the nation.

* Entering the game, Pittsburgh was third in the conference and ninth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The Panthers finished with 10 offensive boards on 60 shot attempts Tuesday. 

* It must have been gratifying for Maverick Rowan to break out of his slump in Pittsburgh. While he was returning home and playing against a school he was familiar with, the most joy probably came from a simpler reason.

Entering the game in a wretched shooting slump and with there being questions as to whether he should continue to be in the starting lineup, Rowan got off to a hot start by hitting three shots from behind the arc early in the game as NC State went on a rampaign early to seize control. The Wolfpack led, 30-9, with 8:21 remaining in the first half after the freshman hit the last of his shots from three-point range before intermission. 

Rowan bookended both his and NC State’s performance when he drilled a three-pointer with nine seconds remaining. It was a potentially season-changing game for the Wolfpack and his performance was much needed.

* Defensively NC State was terrific. The stats speak for themselves. Pittsburgh shot 22-for-60 (36.7 percent) from the floor and made only five three-pointers in 17 attempts (29.4 percent).

The Panthers committed 14 turnovers and, despite NC State coughing up the ball 19 times, were limited to 16 points off turnovers.

As amazing as the 17-point win against a ranked team on the road was, the simple truth is that it should have been much worse. NC State committed a season-high 19 turnovers, with Barber having a season-worst eight. It allowed a 28-point margin to be whittled down to 11 in the second half. 

If the Wolfpack had protected the ball, it is likely Pittsburgh would have been blown out by epic proportions. The Panthers shot nearly 50 percent in the second half (15-for-32) yet never got within single digits of NC State. 

The Pack had a poor assist-to-turnover ratio for the second straight game as NC State finished with only 12 assists on 28 field goals. Pittsburgh finished with 10 steals and in a closer game that would have been lethal. 

* Some of it was probably the law of averages after such a hot start, but NC State struggled shooting in the second half. The Wolfpack made 10-of-27 from the floor after intermission. 

Basketball is a game of runs and with its sensational first half NC State had leverage to overcome its shooting woes in the final 20 minutes. The Pack took advantage and maxed out in the first half at Pittsburgh, something it did not do early at North Carolina when the Tar Heels struggled out of the gate.

Lennard Freeman not only finished with a career-best 14 rebounds, but he also continued an amazing streak. 

NC State has never lost a game when Freeman hauled in at least 10 rebounds. With the win at Pitt, the Wolfpack improved to 12-0 in games where the junior finishes with double-figure numbers on the boards.

"We played Carolina pretty tough and I thought the difference in the second half was our inability to get a rebound. The last couple of days for us that was more of an emphasis than anything else. How well can we finish a defensive possession? Can we get a defensive rebound? I thought our guys in the first half did a good job of that." -- NC State head coach Mark Gottfried

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