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January 20, 2014

Without T.J. Warren, Pack gets much-needed win



All of the analogies applied. NC State needed a win like a drowning swimmer needed a life vest or a stranded wanderer in the desert needed water.

After three straight losses, two of them by more than 30 points, Mark Gottfried's squad could ill-afford to drop a home game versus Maryland Monday night.

Somehow, someway, playing without sophomore forward and ACC-leading scorer T.J. Warren and laboring through a miserable first half, the Wolfpack found a way, rallying from an 11-point second half deficit to defeat the Terps 65-56 in what was the final ACC regular season game between the two rivals.

Maryland leaves for the Big 10 conference in the summer.

"Our team showed a lot of courage, showed a lot of toughness, mental toughness," Gottfried said. "I thought they stepped up in the second half with tremendous desire."

At halftime, NC State looked destined for another sub par offensive performance. The Wolfpack made just 6 of 27 shots for 22.2 percent and was 0 of 8 from beyond the arc. The struggles were not surprising. Warren's 22.2 points per game have become a relied upon factor in NCSU's offense.

"I thought in the first half we looked a little lost offensively trying to figure out how we are going to do this because we do rely on T.J. a lot, and then I thought in the second half we just kind of settled in," Gottfried explained.

Fortunately for NC State, their defense helped limit Maryland on the other end. The Terrapins shot just 11 of 33 for the half themselves. In the second half, the two teams went in different directions.

Maryland stayed cold, making just 11 of 37 shots for 29.7 percent. NCSU heated up in a major way, connecting on 17 of 30 field goal attempts and making 5 of 11 three-pointers.

Leading NCSU's defensive effort was junior wing Desmond Lee, who would help hold Maryland leading scorer Dez Wells to 10 points on just 2-of-11 shooting.

"It was a team effort, it just wasn't me out there guarding him, but I'm excited about it," Lee said.

"I thought Desmond Lee did a great job. He deserves a lot of credit," Gottfried added.

The catalyst offensively was redshirt junior win Ralston Turner, who made 5 of 8 three-point attempts down the stretch after missing his first seven tries. He finished the contest matching his career-high with 23 points after getting the start in replacement of Warren.

"You got to remember I was a pretty good shooter back in the day," Gottfried joked. "I always tell them to miss them early, make them late. I thought Ralston was terrific in the second half."

"They were all good shots," Turner said. "You just got to keep taking them, hope they fall.

"Maybe in the second half when I hit the first shot and I kind of just didn't look back from there. I didn't really think about it, I was just out there playing."

N.C. State did not decide that Warren would not play until about 30 minutes before tip-off, according to Gottfried, but Warren's limited activity in Sunday's practice and Monday's shoot-around was a good indication to his teammates that he would not be available. Warren sprained his ankle late in NCSU's loss at Duke.

Turner, who admitted that the team's confidence level "wasn't sky-high" after the rout at Duke two days prior, said the common theme in the locker room after receiving the Warren update was "come together."

Mired in a four-way logjam at the bottom of the ACC entering Monday, the last thing the Wolfpack needed was a fourth straight conference defeat and to start the year 0-3 in league home games.

"We needed a win bad," Lee admitted. "It was starting to get real, real bad around school. We stayed positive about it. We got beat by 30 twice, so we just stayed positive about it and said we are going to come out and play.

"We had got the late notice that T.J. wasn't playing, so we were like, 'Man,' but we just came out, everybody stepped their game up."

The urgency was noticeable from the outset, when State jumped out to a crowd-pleasing 7-0 lead. The lack of execution though was also apparent as NCSU then flirted with one of the lowest scoring halves in PNC Arena history.

In the second half though, execution and effort came together. Down 31-24, N.C. State got back-to-back fast break baskets. The first was a lay-up by Lee that Maryland goal-tended, and then the second was a pretty pass back behind him by Lee to a trailing freshman forward Kyle Washington for a powerful two-handed dunk.

That was part of an 8-0 run for N.C. State that closed a 31-20 deficit to three points and forced Maryland coach Mark Turgeon to call a timeout.

NC State's momentum never sputtered, as the Wolfpack outscored the Terps 45-27 after halftime and found its much-have victory.

"We definitely needed this one for our confidence," Turner said. "We want to try to get on the right track, so we needed this one to get on that."

With the win, the Wolfpack improved to 12-7 overall and 2-4 in the league. Maryland fell to 11-8 and 3-3 in conference action. NCSU gets a mini-break, not playing until Sunday afternoon when they host Georgia Tech.

Maryland at NC State box score





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