Big men C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell combined for 37 points and 16 rebounds to lead NC State to a 84-68 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon. Leslie netted a game-high 19 points, while Howell just missed his fifth double-double in six games and finished with 18 points and nine boards.
Howell, who left the game with a rolled ankle in the second half but returned shortly after, was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field before fouling out with 1:20 left.
The Wolfpack, who entered the game with the nation's best shooting percentage (.534), shot a blistering 30-55 (.545) from the floor in the win. Rookie T.J. Warren chipped in 15 points for State, while senior Scott Wood added 11 and junior point guard Lorenzo Brown tallied 10.
"We did a lot of things well today," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "I liked that we didn't turn it over very often. I thought that was important for us, especially against a team like Western Michigan. They are pretty good offensively. They are deliberate. If you turn it over a lot against them, you will dig yourself a hole.
"A lot of different people stepped up today. I thought the difference was Lorenzo's defense on the point guard at the end of the first half and through the end of the second half. His pressure disrupted them. That was as important as anything throughout the game."
It was a back-and-forth affair in the first half with five lead changes and seven ties, but the Pack led 43-36 at the break, and never trailed in the second frame. NC State took the lead for good with 2:33 left in the first after a layup by Leslie gave them a 34-32 lead, and they finished the half on a 10-4 run.
"In the first 12-13 minutes, we never took them out of their comfort zone," Gottfried noted. "They executed their offense. They went where they wanted to go. At the end of the half and into the second half, our pressure was different and it disrupted their timing and everything they wanted to do.
"We can't be a team that turns it on and off. We have to be consistent. Our defensive pressure was much better at the end of the first half and all through the second half."
Western Michigan never got closer than five after they opened the second half with a jumper by Darius Paul. From there, State reeled off a 19-6 run to take a comfortable 62-44 lead.
Leslie became the 46th player in program history to net 1,000 career points after he made the front end of a one-and-one in the first half. He joins Wood as active NC State players in that club, but he didn't have a great first half. The big man had just five points and one rebound at the break, and knew he needed to have a better performance in the second.
Leslie did exactly that, to the tune of 14 points and six rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
"It was just me realizing that it was time to pick it up, that was it," he said. "I knew after the first half that I needed to pick it up. I said it to myself and that was one of the things that I was going to do.
"I just wasn't playing to the level that I had to play to for us to win this game. I had to pick it up."
"I don't want Calvin to, 'flip the switch' in the second half," Gottfried added. "I want him to play that way all the time. And not just him, I want everyone to play hard like that all the time. He was really good n the second half."
While it took him 20 minutes to get Leslie going, Howell was the engine that powered the Pack to their seven-point advantage at the midway point. Following a scoreless effort in the team's last game against St. Bonaventure, where Howell fouled out after playing just 12 minutes, he scored the team's first six points and went into the half with 14 points and five boards.
"Rich is a great player and great players bounce back," Leslie noted. "That's one of those things where I wasn't worried about it at all. I knew Rich was going to come out and he was going to play strong.
"Every game is a new game."
NC State has now tallied at least 80 points and shot better than 50 percent from the floor in five straight contests. They have won six in a row and all seven home contests, while the squad sits at 10-2 on the year.
"I am always hunting for that groove and we found it a little later in the season [last year]," Gottfried said. "I do think we are doing a lot of things well right now. We can still be a lot better, especially with out defensive consistency."
The Pack is back in action against Greensboro on Monday, but game time has been pushed back to 5 p.m., in order to allow fans to enjoy the Music City Bowl between NC State and Vanderbilt.