NC State men's basketball coach Mark Gottfried's mix of younger and older players collectively earned a bit of a milestone victory Wednesday.
NC State sophomore small forward T.J. Warren had 21 points and 11 rebounds to help lead the Wolfpack to a 65-58 win over Tennessee in front of 14,831 fans at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. The Wolfpack won a road game against a power conference opponent for the first time since 2009, when NCSU won at Marquette.
Here is a transcript of what Gottfried said following the victory on the Wolfpack Radio Network:
How did you like the poise down the stretch to defeat Tennessee 65-58 in Knoxville?
"I think No. 1, I'm really proud. What I like about our young guys, they came in here and I thought they were fearless. They played with poise, even when Tennessee made the run to start the second half. We had some poise. We stayed with what we wanted to do. We learned.
"We went to Cincinnati earlier in the year and our big guys have gotten better obviously. Our team is a little bit better. I just like the fact that we came in here and showed some confidence and played with confidence, mentally and emotionally, ready to play to star the game. That is the sign of good things for these young guys. Good win for our team, excited for our players."
What kind of toughness did NC State show against Tennessee, particularly freshmen Lennard Freeman and Anthony Barber?
"I thought early, and those two guys were great, but I really thought everybody but Lennard made some nice plays. I'll tell you another guy that really stepped up and was valuable tonight, BeeJay Anya. He blocked five shots and played 24 minutes. He just leaned on [Jarnell] Stokes the whole night. Those two guys just wrestled in there a while. I thought that was great. I thought we kind of wore him down.
"You look out there so many times and you see freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, sophomore, that whole thing. A lot of different guys stepped up and made big plays for being so young."
What did you think of NC State finishing with 12 blocked shots and slowing Tennessee down inside?
"I thought we could [affect them], and what we tried to do all week, we tried to front the post, eliminate the ball to go in there as much and get great weakside help. We didn't want to allow the ball to go in. We wanted great ball pressure on the perimeter, make the passer have difficult angles to see in the post and really get our hands active. We were pretty good there.
"Other than about the first six or eight minutes of the second half, they went in pretty good. They started going inside and were getting a little comfortable. We got into a little bit of foul trouble and our guys got a little cautious there. Then, we went to the zone and I didn't like that really.
"We got back into our man-to-man and got around and fronted them. We got great weakside help, got aggressive and play to win. I like the fact that we were able to bother those guys. For the most part, they didn't kill us inside like I thought they had the potential to do. That is where they are good."
How was the defense on Tennessee's leading scorer Jordan McRae, who had 21 points, but needed to go 6 of 22 from the field?
"I told Desmond [Lee], I was really proud. He guarded him most of the game. Ralston [Turner] had him for a little while. I thought Desmond Lee really made him work for everything. Every shot, he almost had to push off of Desmond to get loose to shoot it. I thought Desmond's positioning was great and fought through the screens pretty good. Even the baskets he got, he had to earn them."
How tough was Anthony Barber to draw a charge on a full-speed Jarnell Stokes, who is listed at 6-8 and 260 pounds?
"He took it. He showed amazing courage to make the play. For a guy his size to take that one, it does take a lot. That is a heck of a play."
How crucial was Desmond Lee's drive to make it a nine-point game again?
"I thought that one was big, and I thought T.J. [Warren's] break-away dunk was big. I thought the shot right at the end of the shot clock and we were struggling, got a ball screen and Cat [Barber] flipped it back to T.J. right in the short corner. Those three baskets collectively were huge for our team down the stretch.
"I thought late in the game, Jordan's blocked shot was big. That was a big block at that point and time in the game. Our guys stepped up and made some key plays at key times."
What do you expect Saturday against East Carolina at PNC Arena, and to get a win going into the holiday break?
"It's very important and I like their team. They have a lot of guys back and had a lot of success last year. I told our guys to enjoy this [defeating Tennessee] on the plane but [Thursday] morning, we'll be back in the gym, will practice and get our mind focused on East Carolina. We can build on something here tonight. We have to be ready Saturday for a Noon game, early morning."