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March 16, 2012
NC State pulled off a 79-65 upset win over No. 6 seed San Diego State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the pregame interview session, San Diego State players acknowledged they were very aware of the speed at which North Carolina State was going to play. The Wolfpack like to run, push the tempo and score in transition.
But the opening minutes of the game saw the exact opposite. North Carolina State was very deliberate in its offensive sets, passing it around the key to find the open shot — and it was often there. Junior forward Richard Howell sunk a floater for the game's first points, and senior guard C.J. Williams hit a three on the next possession.
The Aztecs kept up, hitting a few outside shots of their own. For the first 10 minutes, they were getting great looks on mid-range jumpers, the Wolfpack defenders sagging slightly.
Eventually, NC State's biggest advantage — its size — took control of the contest.
Howell and sophomore forward C.J. Leslie nearly had free reign inside and took advantage. The inside duo combined for 19 of NC State's 33 points in the half.
Leslie, who had four points, picked up two fouls and found himself on the bench for a long stretch. But when he was in the game, he was a force, especially on the defensive end.
San Diego State managed just eight points in the paint, to NC State's 18, a major factor in the 'Pack's four-point lead.
But it was Howell who made the biggest impact. Early on, he was unstoppable down low. When NC State decided to push the tempo, Brown found him down low on a quick pass for a bucket.
And when SDSU really tried to clamp down on him inside, Howell stepped out and hit a few clutch mid-range jumpers to keep the defense honest.
NC State hung tough for the entire half, and then got a huge boost at the 4:11-mark. The Aztecs were bound and determined to get the ball in the paint, but the combination of Howell and Leslie was just to much.
Finally, Jamaal Franklin dumped in into DeShawn Stephens, who was draped inside, and Howell blocked the shot, which ricocheted off Stephens and out of bounds.
The play was a huge momentum-swing. For the rest of the half, NC State outscored SDSU 6-3, the Aztecs' only points in the stretch coming from a very tough shot with a hand in his face from Franklin.
For the rest of the way, Howell will be the biggest key for the Wolfpack. If he can continue to get what he wants inside — and with SDSU's biggest inside presence, Stephens, already sporting two fouls, it's hard to see why he wouldn't — N.C. State could close out this win.
Junior small forward Scott Wood came out of the break on a serious hot streak. He scored just two points in the first 20 minutes but added eight more in the first five minutes of the second half.
Wood was fouled on a layup and hit the free throw for the three-point play. He then hit a jumper and a three-pointer in two straight possessions, capping off an 8-2 run in which every NC State point was scored by Wood.
The run was greatly needed. The Aztecs came out of the break and chipped away at the Wolfpack's lead, cutting it down to 35-34 just before Wood made his first shot.
NC State took a big blow at the 13:13-mark, when Howell was called for a questionable foul beyond the arc. It was his third of the game, sending him to the bench. Junior center DeShawn Painter has been good in his backup role when either Leslie or Howell were on the bench, but Howell has been the star of the game — to have him out at this critical juncture is worrisome.
Without Howell in the mix, SDSU slowly climbed back from its 49-40 deficit. But Brown hit a clutch 3-pointer to keep the lead at 54-48, when Howell returned at the 10:50-mark.
Howell's first order of business up returning to the floor, backing down SDSU forward Tim Shelton, hitting the shot while getting fouled, Shelton's fourth. A huge play put NC State back up seven. But 15 seconds later, he picked up his fourth foul on the other end of the court — it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the last 9:45.
Clinging to a three-point lead with 8:30 to go, C.J. Williams showed the importance of senior leadership. The shot clock was nearly expired when he went up, got his shot blocked, fought for the ball, put it back up to hit rim and reset then go back up to tip it in.
Leslie is also starting to heat up. He hit a floater at the seven-minute mark, giving him six this half.
NC State simply made the big plays down the stretch. Painter stepped out to hit a jumper to extend the lead to nine with just under seven to play. A minute and a half later, the Wolfpack pushed the tempo and Painter hit a layup and got fouled.
On the defensive end, Leslie and Co. clamped down inside and frustrated the Aztecs.
With four minutes to go, Brown hit a jumper to extend the Wolfpack's lead to 11, their largest of the day. Brown leaned his shoulders back and shook his head as he backpedaled down the court — NC State has all the confidence in the world. It's going to be tough for SDSU to come back.
Howell is still on the bench, and Leslie is really stepping up in his absence. For a while, it looked as though he wouldn't come near his team-leading average of 14.6 points per game, but he's really starting to make moves in the paint. He's now up to 14 - and he's drawing fouls and defending very stoutly on the other end of the court. He's been a big part of this second half.
The Wolpack's defense down the stretch was remarkable — the Aztecs shot 0-of-5 in the games finals two and a half minutes to help close out the win.
N.C. State NEWS