NC State kicked up the intensity during the last eight minutes of the game Wednesday to a level Georgia Tech couldn't match to break open a close game and roll to an impressive 83-70 victory at PNC Arena.
Junior point guard Lorenzo Brown had arguably his best game of the season with a game-high 21 points, to go along with 10 assists, five rebounds and three blocks, to lead the Wolfpack. Senior wing Scott Wood added 20 points and junior power forward C.J. Leslie had 19 to help NC State improve to 13-2 overall and 2-0 in the ACC.
"I think from here on out, I think we are one of the good teams out there, and teams should look out for us," Brown said.
The victory sets up an early-season showdown against No. 1-ranked Duke at Noon Saturday at PNC Arena. The Blue Devils will be playing without senior starting power forward Ryan Kelly, who is out with a foot injury.
"They are a great team and have beaten a lot of good teams," Wood said. "They definitely have earned their No. 1 ranking. They are well-coached and have a bunch of good players. We have to come in here and execute, frustrate them a little bit and hopefully come out with a win. I'm sure the crowd won't be a problem."
Georgia Tech shot a lights out 9 of 15 from three-point land and 51 percent from the field in upsetting NC State 82-71 on Jan. 11, 2012, in Raleigh. Six of the 10 players that played in the game, also played Wednesday, but NC State wasn't going to overlook the Yellow Jackets.
NC State coach Mark Gottfried doesn't think his veterans were looking past Georgia Tech, but the excitement of having the top two teams square off is sure to begin now that business was taken care off against the 10-4 Yellow Jackets.
"When you have four returning starters, they understand how important it is to execute," Gottfried said. "We still have to make a shot at the end of it. I think our young guys are learning where the ball needs to go.
"They are seasoned enough to know that you have to play every night and you can't look past anybody in this conference. Each game counts as one game, and it's 18 opportunities."
NC State and Georgia Tech battled back and forth until the Wolfpack made their move over the last eight minutes of the game. The Yellow Jackets struggled to find their rhythm and were out-scored 28-15 down the stretch.
Wood fired in the first of two big three-pointers to break open a tied game to give NCSU a 58-55 lead with 7:13 left. Freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis later followed with a three-pointer of his own to stretch the lead to 61-56 with 5:43 left. NC State never looked back.
Wood's second three-pointer during the last eight minutes gave the Wolfpack a nice eight-point cushion, 68-60, with 3:57 remaining, and he later added 3 of 4 free throws for good measure to finish off the Yellow Jackets.
"We were just getting stops on the defensive end, and that's been the key for us all year," Wood said. "When we get in a stance and we are playing defense like we know we are capable of playing, that allows us to get out and run, and that is when we are at our best."
Brown mixed in his own flashes of brilliance, adding 11 points, three assists and a blocked shot over the last nine minutes of the game.
"The best thing he does is in transition, he can really make plays," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. "He makes some risky plays too, but he just has a flair in the open court.
"I said last year as a sophomore, he's one of the premier point guards in the country. There is no doubt about it that he has proven it night-in, night-out."
NC State's poise and ability to get the shots it wanted proved the difference. Georgia Tech's mix of four freshmen all played in the last few minutes at various points, picking up needed experience for the future.
Georgia Tech tried to pound the ball inside behind the trio of post players, such as redshirt junior center Daniel Miller, freshman power forward Robert Carter Jr. and redshirt junior power forward Kammeon Holsey, who comes off the bench.
Miller finished with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Carter had 12 points and seven boards, and Holsey added seven points and four rebounds.
The big men couldn't counter act the poor perimeter shooting. The Georgia Tech tried of starters combined to go 8 of 30 from the field, plus four perimeter reserves collectively went 4 for 13. The Yellow Jackets finished 27 of 73 for 37 percent from the field, including just 4 of 18 from three-point land.
"We played great defense," Leslie said. "We played shut out defense. We knew what we had to do. We knew we couldn't focus on Saturday's game [vs. Duke]."
Gregory dismissed any kind of slight toward NC State's defensive abilities.
"I think there is a perception out there that State isn't very good defensively," Gregory said. "I'm trying to figure out who started that rumor. They are long, they are athletic and they have good size, and have veteran players."