by Bob Geary
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—Three stars of the 60-58 win by the N.C. State Wolfpack men over Princeton tonight:
3) Alex Johnson, whose 5 points all came in the final four minutes, including State's only 3 of the game. It came with 1:57 left and broke a 55-55 tie. Johnson, pressed into service for 37 minutes after Scott Wood limped off with a sprained ankle after just two minutes, is a graduate student who came to State from Cal State-Bakersfield with his fourth year of eligibility in his pocket.
2) Lorenzo Brown, without whom there wouldn't have been any last-minute heroics. He finished with 16 points (including a driving 2 sandwiched in between Johnson's buckets at the end), 8 assists, 5 steals, 5 rebounds and just 3 turnovers in 37 minutes under pressure.
1) DeShawn Painter, who popped in the winning 2 from about 18 feet with 4.2 seconds remaing. Painter, a 6'9 center, came from inside out as Brown ranged to the left with the clock ticking down and the score tied at 58. Brown drew the defense, and flipped a pass to Painter who turned and fired without hesitation. Not the guy you'd expect to be putting up the last shot, from the outside anyway, but he said he was looking for it all the way. It's a shot he makes in practice, "a good shot for him," Coach Mark Gottfried said.
Painter's numbers for the game weren't huge, but the fact is, he joined with Rich Howell, Jordan Vandenberg and freshman Tyler Harris to dominate the backboards in this one: State out-rebounded Princeton 40-24, with a dozen offensive boards to Princeton's half-dozen.
Fans who booed the officials repeatedly may want to ponder this. After Painter's basket, Princeton called timeout and set up a play for Ian Hummer to take the inbounds pass at his own foul line and push up-court as far as he could before taking the final shot. 4.2 seconds is plenty of time to get off a good shot, and Gottfried knew it, so he told his team to foul. Which they did, mugging Hummer as he caught the ball. No call. Hummer stumbled out of their grip, but his chances of getting anything better than a 60-foot prayer from the wrong side of half-court were gone. His shot was online, but short.
If we had four stars, we'd be hard-pressed to choose between C.J. Williams and Vandenberg. Williams played a solid all-around game, with 10 points and excellent defense on Hummer, who finished with 15 hard-earned points. The 7'1 Vandenberg had a breakaway dunk after he tipped a shot at the top of the key and ran out for a lead pass from Johnson. It was part of a 14-7 run at the start of the second half that put State up 46-42 and brought the fans to life. Vandenberg played strong defense inside. He was credited with 3 blocks and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes, and in addition he altered a lot of shots by Princeton's trio of big men, all in the 6'9 to 6'10 range themselves.
State played again without C.J. Leslie, who wrapped up a three-game NCAA suspension for an infraction that's an infraction only in the bizarro world of NCAA rules. (In the NCAA, if it's seriously corrupt, it's legal. But if it's a nit-picky way to remind the "student-athletes" that the student part doesn't matter and they can't be professional athletes either, then it's illegal. See how that works?)
On top of no Leslie, State had no Scott Wood either after he rolled his right ankle two minutes into the game. He was in a walking cast and on crutches when he returned to the bench later. He's likely out for a week or more, but the good news is, x-rays showed no fracture, according to State's sports info folks.
Game summary: This was close throughout; Princeton led throughout the first half (max. lead was 9), then the lead went back and forth in the second half, with ties at 42, 51, 55 and 58. AFter Johnson made his 3 to put State up 58-55, the teams traded misses, including a missed front end of a 1-and-1 by Brown, after which Douglas Davis of Princeton drained a 3 of his own to tie it again at 58.
Davis finished with a game-high 21.
Princeton was 6 of 7 from beyond the arc in the first half as State struggled to defend against the famed "Princeton-style" offense, with its high-post passing, constant screens and back cuts. (State fans will recognize it as the Elian Evtimov offense of Herb Sendek days.)
But in the second half, State got better at calling out the screens and jumping out on the shooters. Princeton made just 3 of 12 from long-range and, as noted, the Princeton style has people moving away from the basket a lot, which means not much offensive rebounding.
For State, Brown spent most the game searching for someone who wanted to take — and make — a shot. He took a few himself, runners in the lane, in cases where there just wasn't anyone else. Without Wood, State has no, repeat no dependable outside shooters. Or, for that matter, shooters.
C.J. Williams can make a mid-range shot, and so can Painter, who made two of them, including the game winner. But most of State's scoring came inside, either on post moves or post moves leading to missed shots and clean-up rebounds.
Without Leslie, Wood and the departed Ryan Harrow in the lineup — all were huge defensive liabilities last year — State's defense was pretty good. Princeton, the defending Ivy League champs, are probably not quite as good this year (they're off to an 0-2 start), but as Gottfried said, they'e difficult to defend if you haven't seen that offensive style before. With Williams, Brown and Johnson playing hard on the perimeter, State's defensive work wasn't perfect, and there were some breakdowns. But it was a sustained good effort. The mistakes weren't from not trying.