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November 26, 2013

Jordan Vandenberg, new lineup spark Pack

The return to health of fifth-year senior center Jordan Vandenberg along with some lineup changes helped create an opening night vibe Tuesday against Florida Gulf Coast.

NC State coach Mark Gottfried turned the team over to freshman point guard Anthony Barber, and went with a bigger frontcourt featuring 7-foot-1 Vandenberg, 6-8 freshman power forward Lennard Freeman and 6-8 small forward T.J. Warren.

The bigger frontcourt dominated the boards 43-25, and Warren carried the offense to score 30 points in the Wolfpack's 82-62 dismantling in front of 11,123 fans at PNC Arena. NC State (3-2) opened up a dominating 27-point lead a little over six minutes into the second half against last year's Sweet 16 Cinderella story from Fort Myers, Fla.

"Our defense was good and we picked the intensity up," Warren said. "We had good intensity on both ends of the floor, tried to finish easy baskets and share the ball and be unselfish. It all started with energy."

NC State bounced back from a disappointing 82-72 overtime home loss against North Carolina Central on Nov. 20. The first half quickly proved that the Wolfpack were a different team Tuesday night, leading to a 39-24 halftime lead.

"I thought a lot of guys did a lot of things well," Gottfried said. "I was proud of our group to bounce back against a good solid group of players from Florida Gulf Coast, who had a lot of success last year."

Vandenberg led the rebound brigade with a game-high 10 rebounds, to go with seven points and two blocks in 21 minutes. He missed the first four games of the season after suffering an ankle sprain during an exhibition game.

"My brace feels fine, but it stops my foot from rolling," Vandenberg said. "I jump off my right foot. I cut off my right foot. My left foot just exists.

"It was fun and good to see my teammates play really well. T.J. had 30 and 9 or something, and he just exploded today."

Vandenberg entered NC State at about 230 pounds, but ballooned up to around 286 the last year. With one last shot at getting extended minutes, the Australian used this past offseason to lose the unwanted pounds he had gained.

"I thought Jordan played really well, and the one thing you have to remember is that he is 40 pounds lighter than he was a year ago, and is more agile," Gottfried said. "He can bother shots and he can get rebounds. The few times they threw the ball inside, they threw it back out. He bothered them with his length."

Vandenberg's absence caused the Wolfpack to play small ball with Warren at power forward. Warren's 16 points in the second half led to the Wolfpack shooting 18 of 29 from the field for a blistering 62.1 percent. NCSU finished the game shooting 54.8 percent, though was a modest 2 of 8 from three-point land.

"We've had four games where we have been out of sync," Gottfried said. "We seem to be much more cohesive and settled down tonight. We didn't have two freshmen post players in at the same time."

Barber was excited about making his first start at NC State. The McDonald's All-American from Newport News, Va., added 12 points and six assists, and enjoyed having the keys to the Wolfpack's offense handed to him by Gottfried.

"I felt like it was time for Cat, and he's caught up with the time that he missed," said Gottfried in eluding to the preseason practices Barber missed due to a concussion. "Defensively, he changes things for us at the point of our defense."

Florida Gulf Coast returned three starters from last year's Sweet 16 run, plus a few reserves. Senior power forward Chase Fieler was saddled with three fouls in the first half, but came alive to score 16 of his 18 points in the second. Junior wing Bernard Thompson returned from injury to net 14 points and Marquette transfer Jamail Jones added 11.

First-year coach Joe Dooley, who was an assistant at Kansas and former head coach at East Carolina, couldn't get his squad into any kind of offensive rhythm. The Eagles shot 19 of 55 for 34.5 percent, and struggled from the three-point stripe (4 of 16).

NCSU had been working hard in practice to avoid fouling after NCCU went 41 of 45 from the line during their upset victory.

"Hands up, hands off, constantly because there is a fine line because you don't want your team to be passive," Gottfried said. "We still have to learn how to defend without putting our hands on people and moving our feet.

"As a team, we have to learn how the game is going to be called."

NC State returns to action against Eastern Kentucky at 8 p.m. Saturday at PNC Arena. The Colonels are 6-1 overall this season.

Florida Gulf Coast at NC State box score

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