NC State is starting to settle into roles, but perhaps senior center Richard Howell's is becoming the most important.
Howell set new career highs with 19 rebounds and five blocks, while also adding 12 points and five assists in helping the No. 25-ranked Wolfpack dominate Norfolk State 84-62 in front of 12,384 fans Saturday at PNC Arena.
Howell played the second-most minutes of the season with 34 and avoided any hint of foul trouble. The 6-foot-8, 257-pounder also didn't have a backup with redshirt junior center Jordan Vandenberg out for the game with a knee injury.
"I thought Richard tonight was just spectacular again," NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. "He gets every rebound. He's cleaning up some mistakes defensively when we make them. He finds a way to help us start the break. He had some nice passes tonight."
Junior point guard Lorenzo Brown simply said that Howell's gaudy rebounding statistics are "what he does."
"I'm proud of him and he's working hard, and getting his rhythm," Brown said.
NCSU, who improved to 7-2 overall, have a big rematch against Stanford on Tuesday. The Wolfpack lost 76-72 to the Cardinal last year in Palo Alto, Calif.
NC State came out the aggressor in building up an early 14-4 lead, but then started to get a little stagnant when Norfolk State switched to a zone defense. The Spartans made their lone run of the game to cut it to 23-22 with 6:59 left, but the Wolfpack responded well to close out the first half on a 12-3 run to take a 38-25 lead into halftime.
If it wasn't Howell cleaning things up on the interior, then it was freshman forward T.J. Warren continuing to show his knack of being in the right place at the right time. The 6-8, 235-pound matchup nightmare at the two forward spots went 9 of 11 for 21 points in 28 minutes of action off the bench. Howell and Brown adeptly found Warren time-after-time for numerous easy layups. Warren also drained both three-point attempts.
"Whoever is hot is going to get the ball," Warren said. "I don't [scoring] has been a surprise. Everyone knows I can score. I just want to get out there to play good for my team, the coaches and my family. I know what I need to do when I get out there."
Brown aggressive play in the first half led to another strong performance. He went 7 of 8 from the field for 16 points, seven assists and four steals, which in a few cases, led to some spectacular breakaway slam dunks.
"We did a better job this game of taking care of the ball, [but] we made some silly passes," Brown said. "We have a lot of scorers on the team with T.J. and C.J. [Leslie], and they are pure scorers. That is my job to get them open at all times."
Gottfried was also happy Brown made his lone three-point attempt of the game, which hasn't been a strong suit for the versatile performer in the early portion of the schedule.
"He needs to score for us because I don't want point guards that can't score at all," Gottfried said. "He has to be able to distribute the ball, run the offense and score on top of that, which I thought tonight he was pretty good at."
Junior power forward C.J. Leslie added 11 points, and freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis chipped in 10 and four assists. The Spartans concentrated on forcing Leslie into being a passer and limited him to six field-goal attempts.
"We tried to double-team him every time, but he played a lot in the high post," Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said. "If he'd played down on the block, we could have doubled him every time he touched it, him or Howell."
Evans lost by 10 point to No. 10-ranked Illinois last Tuesday, and then faced No. 25-ranked NC State this week.
"I think NC State is really, really talented," Evans said. "They create mismatches because of Leslie. I don't think Illinois has anyone like that. Their three guards can be guarded for the most part, but Leslie is a mismatch nightmare."
NC State finished shooting 57.4 percent from the field (31 of 54), and Gottfried thought that number could have been higher. The Wolfpack had 21 assists on the 31 made field goals.
Norfolk State ended up forcing 17 turnovers, and NC State continued its struggles at the free-throw line, shooting 64.3 percent for the game (18 of 28).
"We have a pretty unselfish team," Gottfried said. "I thought a couple of times on the break, we got a little too cute. We just need to finish it and make baskets."
The Wolfpack held the Spartans to a dismal 32.8 percent from the field and 3 of 16 from three-point land.
"We are starting to show signs of a team that guard somebody here and there," Gottfried said. "The defense was much better than it has been, and I think we can get a lot better defensively."