NC State never got rattled in what proved to be a relatively close game for the first 28 minutes Saturday.
Sophomore small forward T.J. Warren exploded for 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half to propel NC State to a 76-66 win over visiting Long Beach State in front of 10,616 fans at PNC Arena.
Freshman point guard Anthony Barber had 19 points and four assists, and junior shooting guard Desmond Lee had 11 of his 15 points in the first half. The Wolfpack (6-2 overall) shot an impressive 50 percent for the game, but continued to struggle from three-point range (3 of 15).
"That was a grinder in my opinion," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "We just never seemed to get a real good flow offensively, but we did what we needed to do to win."
Both teams played back and forth with lead no larger than four points throughout the first 15 minutes of the game. Redshirt junior Ralston Turner got a steal and dunk with a minute left before halftime to give the Wolfpack a 36-29 lead.
Warren has typically played his best ball after halftime of games this season, though Wednesday's win over Northwestern was a reversal of that trend. He leads the Wolfpack in scoring with 22.6 points per game, which ranks 17th in the country.
"We didn't have any energy in the beginning," Warren said. "Coach Gottfried got on us a little bit. We just wanted to come out in the second half with a lot more energy on both ends of the floor."
Long Beach State cut the lead to 53-51 with 11:49 left in the game, and the Wolfpack went to work. Freshman post player Kyle Washington came off the bench and made back-to-back baskets, and Barber hit a three-pointer and split a pair of free throws to give the Wolfpack a 65-55 lead with 7:06 left.
The 10-point cushion was exactly what NC State needed to close out Long Beach State the rest of the way.
"Cat had some great plays during a stretch right there that really helped ignite us for a run for us," Gottfried said. "I think he's getting more comfortable. He did a great job of [Mike] Caffey."
Washington finished with six points, three rebounds and two blocks, and freshman Lennard Freeman led the Wolfpack with 13 rebounds to go along with four points.
"I came here to play well," Washington said. "Obviously, I haven't been lately, but this was a good step for me. I'm going to be focused on rebounding and defense. The scoring will come. Finding my niche and finding my groove is the biggest key."
Caffey scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, including hitting the offensive boards on two possessions, which led to a layup and a three-point play. Getting points in the paint proved to be the theme for the 49ers offense, which only made 2 of 11 from the three-point stripe.
Long Beach State juniors Dan Jennings and David Samuels, who are both from New York City, went to work inside. Jennings, a center who started his career at West Virginia, finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Samuels, a junior transfer, added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the 49ers, who shot 41.3 percent for the game.
LBSU fell to 1-9 but will be getting the services of UCLA wing transfer Tyler Lamb, who Rivals.com ranked No. 41 in the country in the class of 2010. The 49ers have played NC State, Kansas State twice, Michigan, VCU, Arizona, Washington and Creighton, among others this season.
"I think once they get into their league [Big West], they will be a pretty good basketball team," Gottfried said. "They are a very talented team."
The NC State players have finals this week and to action Saturday against Detroit at historic Reynolds Coliseum. The Titans are 4-5 and led by forward Juwan Howard Jr., the son of the former NBA star, who is averaging 16.9 points per game.
The Wolfpack have a five-game non-conference stretch remaining before the start of ACC play against Pittsburgh on Jan. 4. Expectations around the team are starting to build, and some quietly (and not so quietly) think the program is on pace to be a top 25 program at some point.
"If we had Jordan [Vandenberg] from the start, I feel we'd be undefeated right now," Warren said.