NC State enjoyed a festive Senior Night by wiping out Wake Forest 81-66 on Wednesday at PNC Arena.
NCSU junior power forward C.J. Leslie thrilled the home crowd with 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in one his best all-around efforts of the season. The Wolfpack featured four players in double figures and owned the second-chance points category 22-5 to avenge an early-season loss to the Demon Deacons.
NC State improved to 22-8 overall and 11-6 in the ACC and remain in the hunt to grab one of the top four seeds for the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Wake Forest fell to 12-17 overall and 5-12 in the league
NC State seniors Richard Howell, Scott Wood and Jay Lewis combined for 20 points and seven rebounds in the victory.
"I got a little emotional driving to the gym just kind of thinking about it," Wood said. "I might not like the lights, but in the long run, it was my home court and had a lot of good moments. There are a lot of good memories here and a lot of bad memories here. You never get that opportunity to put on the white jersey at home. I'm going to miss it."
Howell was able to see his daughter before the contest and share one last experience together at PNC Arena.
"I definitely got close [to being overly emotional], especially when I came off the floor the last time here, and everyone was chanting my name," Howell said.
The trio were honored prior to the game and coach Mark Gottfried praised their developments and ability to foster a relationship with them.
"One of the joys of coaching, and we all want to win, and we get it," Gottfried said. "To watch both [Howell, Wood] of them develop their games, I think they've both have had unbelievable senior years. It's very rewarding to me."
Gottfried said Howell and Wood have been shining examples to their teammates when it comes to the old saying of "To the victors, come the spoils."
"They epitomize what you want in a basketball player in that they are tremendously unselfish," Gottfried said. "Their motive is to win."
NCSU freshmen T.J. Warren and Rodney Purvis helped pick up the scoring slack and combined for 29 points and 10 boards. Purvis shot 3 of 4 from three-point land and continued to adjust to coming off the bench.
Purvis wanted to send the seniors out as winners while getting some payback against Wake Forest.
"Coach Gottfried really wanted us to beat them bad, that's what he said," Purvis said. "I almost cried myself and I'm going to miss those guys a lot. Both of those guys have had a huge impact on my life and helping me get through things."
NC State improved to 16-1 at home, with the lone loss coming in the last second against ACC No. 1 seed Miami.
"I watched the tape yesterday, and I'm watching us against North Carolina here [at PNC Arena]," Gottfried said. "I'm looking at it and we are ranked No. 17 in the country and up 28 [points in the second half].
"Then we go to Virginia and Lorenzo [Brown] gets hurt and we lose. We play Miami and lose. Then we have to go to Duke and lose. We got wiped off the grid after that."
Not everything was clicking early in the game. NC State struggled to find rhythm while dealing with the emotions of Senior Night. The Wolfpack trailed 16-15 with 9:48 left before halftime, and the crowd grew worried that a potential repeat of what happened in Winston-Salem could occur.
"I thought after the first few minutes, they had a great start and we didn't," Gottfried said. "After the first 3-4 minutes, we really down in a stance and defended them well."
Wake Forest senior shooting guard C.J. Harris hit back-to-back three-pointers within 1:08 of each other to spark the Demon Deacons early, but then managed three points the rest of the game.
NC State went on a string of dunks and layups, with a Brown three-pointer mixed in, and went on a dominating 13-0 run to seize a 28-16 lead with 4:26 left before the half.
Wood later added a rare, but not for him, four-point play to cap off the turnaround during the first half to stretch the lead to 34-22. The Wolfpack went into halftime, leading 39-24 and full of confidence and never looked back against the out-manned Demon Deacons.
NC State kept feeding Leslie the ball throughout the first half, who was often matched up against 6-6 freshman power forward Arnaud Adala Moto. The former NC State recruiting target matched the 6-9 Leslie in strength, but not in height, explosiveness or length.
Leslie didn't need much of an offensive repertoire, but his repeated drives to the basket combined with fastbreak opportunities supplied him with enough shots around the basket to overcome a shaky start. Leslie scored 11 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, and didn't have a turnover in the game.
"He's obviously a very talented young man," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "He's very quick off his feet, really played hard and very light off his feet. If he really wants to be, he can be."
The second half was more of the same with the Wolfpack eventually building a 24-point lead with 13:41 remaining in the game. Wake Forest showed a few signs of life to cut the deficit to 60-44 with 10:23 remaining, but there wasn't going to be any comeback heroics like the previous game in Winston-Salem.
Wake Forest stunned NC State by rallying from a 16-point first deficit to win 86-84 on Jan. 22. Devin Thomas led the way with 24 points and 13 rebounds and the Demon Deacons shot a blistering 59.4 percent in the second half in the big upset win.
NC State maintained its comfortable margin this time around, and Thomas was held relatively in check. The freshman center didn't score his first basket until 4:07 left in the first half, and finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the rematch.
Thomas had to deal with being the focus of NC State's interior defense.
"He's a talented young freshman, who is fearless and ferocious in there, and will develop into a really, really fine basketball player," Bzdelik said.
Wake Forest also was forced to play without freshman guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who missed the game with strep throat. Raleigh native Madison Jones filled in at point guard and had 10 points and six assists. Junior forward Travis McKie added 12 points and five boards.
"It hurt depth, but I thought Madison Jones did a great job," Bzdelik said. "Codi was actually sick in the Maryland game. He progressively got worse and he was pretty sick. His fever broke and he should be able to get back on the floor tomorrow."
Wake Forest has lost nine out of its last 11 games since topping NC State.
"Our inability to consistency defend and to consistently rebound and take care of the basketball is our Achilles heel," Bzdelik said. "We really are our own worst enemy. We really are. We beat ourselves."