McLamb: Cat On Fire

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It was a performance that has become common. It has created an argument that folks in Raleigh have heard before.

 It was a performance that has become common. It has created an argument that folks in Raleigh have heard before.

Cat Barber dissected Wake Forest’s defense with surgical precision Saturday at PNC Arena. The end result was NC State defeating its most frequent opponent in school history, Wake Forest, 99-88.

Finishing the contest a career-best 38 points, Barber’s outburst came completely within the flow of the game. The junior made 10-of-20 field goals, with 30 of his points coming after intermission.

Barber now has seven games of 30 points or more this season and eight in his career. Among NC State players, only David Thompson, Rodney Monroe, Kenny Carr and T.J. Warren have more. 

How hot is Barber? Over his last five games, he's averaging 32.2 points per game on 53.1% shooting from the field, 43% from 3-point range, and 89% from the free throw line.

Another name that has been brought up in recent weeks when comparing Barber’s play to that of great ACC point guards has been Kenny Anderson, who was remarkable in 1990 when he helped lead Georgia Tech to an ACC title and Final Four berth. The stats between Barber this season and Anderson 26 years ago are comparable.

Against Wake Forest, in a game with 50 fouls called, Barber sank 17-of-20 free throws. It was a stark contrast to two seasons ago, when the then-freshman seemed unsteady at the free throw line. These days Barber does some of his best work at the charity stripe and free throws, along with the foul trouble they create, is one of his biggest weapons.

The debate as to whether Barber is a viable candidate is redundant for NC State followers in that it repeats the same talking point that occurred during the 2013-14 campaign when Warren was vying for the ACC Player of the Year, an award he eventually claimed. The Wolfpack’s record, both then and now, was a major sticking point for pundits.

To be fair, NC State was significantly better two seasons ago despite needing a late regular season push to reach the NCAA Tournament. This season the Wolfpack will have to fight tooth and nail simply to finish with a winning record.

The counter-argument is that Erick Green won the ACC Player of the Year the season before Warren despite playing for a team that lost 19 games. Unless NC State goes winless the remainder of the way, the Wolfpack is a better team now that the Hokies were in 2012-13.

It has been interesting to watch the development of Barber’s college career. As a freshman, defense was his biggest asset and taking charges was what he did best. Now he scores despite everyone in the arena knowing what he will do, which is a sign of dominance.

It has not been an easy journey for Barber. He has had his bumps along the way. College is typically where students spend the formative years of adulthood and Barber, both on the off the court, continues to grow and blossom. His best days are hopefully ahead of him.

Experts and fans alike have accepted that, barring an amazing late season rally, NC State’s best hope for postseason will be in the NIT.

Regardless of what happens for the remainder of the season, and for that matter after the conclusion of the campaign when Barber will have to decide whether or not to return to NC State for his senior season, everyone should sit back and enjoy the magic he conjures on the court.

The Wolfpack and the ACC both have a rich tradition of excellence on the basketball court. Barber has etched his name among the greats, even if he does not win the conference player of the year award.

Despite being compared to others, the truth is that Cat Barber is unique. NC State has helped mold him into a man but his play on the court and development off of it is the gift that the university and its fans get back in return.

Barber is a sensational basketball player. He is an eventual Wolfpack legend.

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