by Neil Morris
From the packed house of 18,057 lively partisans to the heightened energy level emitting from the court to the always-pliable officiating from ACC referees, it was clear from the outset that there is a wide chasm between out-of-conference competition and the perennial pressure of Atlantic Coast Conference play. Add to that the psychological hurdle of the Terps having won the last nine contests against N.C. State. So, perhaps it was not surprising that when asked some variation of the question “Would you have won this game last year?” several Wolfpack players answered with various versions of “No.” What made the Pack’s victory even more satisfying was that it came against a team — and star player — who came ready and able to put them to the test.
What is surprising, however, is that after a back-and-forth first half that included five ties and six lead changes, the Wolfpack would never relinquish their lead after halftime. That advantage did shrink to a single possession on several occasions, thanks to the terrific play of Maryland point guard and ACC leading scorer Terrell Stoglin, who led all players with 25, including six three-pointers.
“He’s a really good player,” gushed Gottfried. “He’s a really good three-point shooter, he’s a really good driver, and he’s strong so that when he gets in the paint and initiates contact it’s really hard to guard him.”
On the other hand, the victory for N.C. State, the only ACC team to have five players averaging double figures, was a typical team effort — four players notched double-digit points on this night. Still, it fell to the usual suspects to ultimately pace the Pack. C.J. Leslie had 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. The superb Brown met Stoglin’s challenge by being the consummate playmaker, scoring 11 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and, more importantly, dishing nine assists to only one turnover. In the end, however, the Wolfpack recovered from what Gottfried called “a comedy of errors” in the game’s waning minutes thanks to Scott Wood, who iced the game from the floor and the line (where he has now made 47 straight), scoring eight of his 19 points in the last 90 seconds. He also made a key block of a Pe’Shon Howard three-pointer with 19 seconds left, an unexpected event that left Howard and Wood chirping at each other.
Even more remarkable is that Wood only had one three-point basket all night, as he and his teammates found other ways, such as freeing him up off screens and finding spaces inside the arc, to get the deadeye marksman involved on offense.
“The way [teams] are defending Scott is helping him [get open] because he can create off the dribble,” said Richard Howell. And, that something we definitely need other than someone who can just shoot threes all day.”
Still, as much of the Wolfpack’s victory is attributable to the battle-testing that came with their early season schedule strength — 31st in the NCAA according to Statesheet.com — as compared to Maryland, whose SOS is currently ranked 140. Moreover, the Terrapins’ trip to Raleigh was their first true road game this season — of their first 13 games, only four were away from Comcast Center, all neutral-site matchups (one being in nearby Washington, D.C.).
It’s this scheduling that Gottfried alluded to when asked about his recent statements outlining the objective to win (what he believes are) the 11 ACC games necessary to make the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m not going to hide from our goals — I’m not afraid to say it,” said Gottfried. “But, let’s be real honest…we all know where this program has been. So, I understand [winning 11 conference games] is a tall order. But, we scheduled the way we [did] because that’s the goal. I didn’t come here to play in anything other than the NCAA Tournament. Whether we can get there or not is a whole other story. And, we probably do have a long, long way to go.”
The next step on that journey is Wednesday night against Georgia Tech. Game time is 9:00 p.m. at the RBC Center.