by Neil Morris
This was the Wolfpack’s second straight contest against teams that qualified for last season’s NCAA Tournament. But, while the Eagles finished the 2010-11 season with a 25-10 record and defeated Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tourney, this ain’t your truTV’s Morehead State. Gone are top assist man Demonte Harper and Kenneth Faried, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, who was drafted by a “Denver Nuggets” of some league once known as the National Basketball Association.
Playing again without the suspended C.J. Leslie, N.C. State led from the start and never looked back. Scott Wood drained his first of five three-point baskets 15 seconds into the game. Indeed, Wood scored all of his 18 points in the first-half and, more importantly, cut down on the personal fouls that limited him to only 18 minutes in Friday night’s win over UNC Asheville.
“It was really frustrating the first night getting all those fouls and not being able to play and get into the flow,” said Wood. “So, tonight I came out and played a little smarter.”
Morehead State sported half-court zone and full-court press defenses from the outset. However, guided by the ball-handling skills of Lorenzo Brown and Alex Johnson, the Wolfpack continued their fast-paced attack—N.C. State outscored the Eagles 16-4 in fast break points.
However, it was the inside play of juniors Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter that was the true eye-opener. With Wood making Morehead State honor him from the outside, room eventually opened up for the Wolfpack’s bigs. Howell finished with a game- and career-high 25 points plus eight rebounds, while Painter, getting the start over Jordan Vandenberg, added 19 points and five boards; indeed, Painter didn’t miss a shot, FG or FT, all game. For good measure, Howell and Painter dished out two assists each.
“I told DeShawn...it’s his time to step up,” said Howell. “He’s been here for two years and hasn’t gotten to show how good he really is. It’s starting to come out, and it’s good because he’s keeping up with everything and not falling behind on the plays.”
After the Wolfpack took an 18-point advantage into halftime, the over-matched Eagles saw N.C. State’s lead grow exponentially in the second half. A three-pointer by Johnson with 3:27 left put N.C. State up by 36. A focus on notching freshmen walk-ons Staats Battle and Kendall Smith some rare points allowed the Eagles to “cut” the final margin down to merely 30.
The Wolfpack shot a robust 61 percent from the field. Even more impressive, however, was their whopping assists-to-baskets ratio.
“You always appreciate winning, but what I really liked tonight was how we moved and shared the ball,” observed Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfied. “We had 33 made baskets and 26 assists—that’s pretty impressive. Friday night (against UNC Asheville), we had 29 baskets with 21 assists, so in both games our guys really shared it.”
The Wolfpack (2-0) continue their march through the Legends Classic and, more notably, their aim to recreate last year’s NCAA Tournament when they host Princeton on Wednesday before traveling to East Rutherford, NJ this weekend to face Vanderbilt and then either Texas or Oregon State.
“We’re doing some things well, but I’m a realist,” said a cautious Gottfried. “The competition is going to get much greater. Our inside guys are doing awfully well right now around the basketball, but we’re a lot bigger than the teams we’ve played. But, we are playing the game the right way—that’s what I like.”