The NC State men's basketball team has won every game when sophomore forward T.J. Warren has scored at least 23 points this season.
The winning and Warren correlation has proven true in four of six games for the Wolfpack. Warren exploded for 26 of his 30 points to help NC State rally for a 75-56 victory over Eastern Kentucky in front of 10,221 fans at PNC Arena.
Warren tallied 30 points for the second-straight game, and the Wolfpack are 4-0 when he score at least 23 this season. NCSU went 0-2 — losses to Cincinnati and North Carolina Central — with Warren scoring 13 points apiece.
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"My teammates were getting into me at halftime," Warren said. "They were like, 'T.J., you have to pick it up.' They were encouraging me and giving me the confidence to do it."
Warren finished shooting 10 of 23 from the field, but made all nine free throws. He also added 11 rebounds for his double-double for the season.
"I've been trying to get everybody involved," Warren said. "Eventually, I started getting going and I stayed aggressive the rest of the game in the second half. I know I have to keep it up and be aggressive at all times."
Warren admitted he has fallen into a tendency to have slow first halves. NC State outscored Eastern Kentucky by 29 points over final 25:08.
"It was definitely defense," Warren said. "We had more energy, wanted to get stops, and get out in transition. Our shots weren't falling in the first half, but luckily in the second half, they started to fall."
NC State trailed 27-21 at halftime and was slowed down against Eastern Kentucky's (6-2 overall) zone defense. The offense kicked into high gear behind Warren's explosion to shoot 21 of 32 from the field after halftime.
"The second half, the ball moved a lot better and we got inside the zone, and I thought we attacked it pretty well," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said.
Gottfried knows that teams will continue to zone if the Wolfpack don't improve upon their 2 of 14 shooting from three-point range. NCSU is 7 of 42 from beyond the arc the last three games.
"I think we are a better three-point shooting team than we are showing," Gottfried said. "I think we have guys that are capable of making them. I like the fact that we are finding ways to score against the zone.
"I think we are going to see a lot of zone this year. We better get better at it or we'll have long nights."
NC State finished with three players in double figures, with fifth-year center Jordan Vandenberg tallying a career-high 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, and freshman point guard Anthony Barber had 12 points and five assists. Vandenberg's previous career high was eight points against Georgia Tech on Feb. 26, 2011.
Gottfried pointed out that Vandenberg changes the game with his 7-foot-1 length, combined with his ability to easily dunk around the rim.
"Cat made me look good at the end, and that's all you can ask," said Vandenberg on the former McDonald's All-American.
Barber has quickly learned that when Warren is hot, keep getting him the ball.
"He can score at will and just gets in his zone and makes shots," Barber said.
Eastern Kentucky shot 37.9 percent in both halves but only went to the free-throw line six times. The Colonels were led by the backcourt tandem of Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden, who combined for 27 points and nine assists.
NC State returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against Northwestern in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Wildcats lost to Missouri and UCLA during the Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas to fall to 4-4 overall.