NC State's new up-tempo approach has produced two good scoring efforts during the preseason. The latest was an 85-61 triumph over Catawba College on Tuesday night at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.
"I thought we played a solid game," NC State head coach Sidney Lowe said. "I thought our defense again was good for the most part. That enabled us to get some runs. I think offensively we moved the ball around real well, had a couple of guys make some shots."
Fueled by good point guard play, NC State jumped out to a 25-8 lead on a layup from redshirt junior point Farnold Degand halfway through the first half. Degand got the start at point guard and scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting. He used his speed to drive to the basket for lay-ups on multiple occasions.
Sophomore point Javier Gonzalez, who started the first preseason game, also played well, making 3 of 7 shots for six points to go with five assists. Afterwards, Lowe expressed confidence in his point guard duo.
"It allows us to push the ball," Lowe said. "The last year we could've done it maybe earlier in the season, but when Farnold got hurt we only had one really so we couldn't do it because we'd wear him out. Now with both of those guys in there, Farnold can push it, Javi can push it, and they are going to make the right decisions. It gives us an opportunity to get those easy baskets, which we need to get.
""I think both of them are capable, I think both are capable. Farnold, he's still not 100 percent, I don't think yet, but he's getting there. Neck and neck, if they are both are good, that's good by me."
The one negative though was a combined seven turnovers by Degand and Gonzalez, and 16 turnovers as a team, two more than Catawba committed. The Indians got strong performances Dominick Reid and Rob Fields to play even with the Pack after State jumped out to the 17-point lead.
Fields finished with a game-high 21 points off the bench, making 8 of 15 shots, several of them under tight defense. Reid was sharp from long range, making 4 of 8 3-pointers and finishing with 14 points.
NC State led 43-28 at the break, but Catawba started the second half with a 9-4 run to cut the lead to 47-37 with 16:59 left in the contest. Lowe at one point during that stretch called a timeout to wake his team up.
"We gave up something too easy, we gave up a play too easy, and allowed them to get in it," Lowe said. "You can't come out that way. It's zero-zero is the score. You got to try to establish yourself once again, knowing that that team, and I told our guys give your opponent some credit, that they are going to come out even tougher. I wasn't pleased with our effort when we first came out, but I was very pleased with the way we reacted."
The Pack eventually responded, stretching a 60-47 lead with 10:20 left to 75-50 at the 4:50 mark, punctuated by an emphatic dunk from senior wing Courtney Fells.
Fells was not as active against Catawba as he was against Fort Valley State in the first exhibition game last Thursday when he had 21 points in 21 minutes. Fells finished with just 10 points this time out, taking only five shots and making three.
NC State got quiet performances in general from their wing players. Freshman C.J. Williams, who started his second straight game, had just two points on 1-of-4 shooting, and reserve Trevor Ferguson, a redshirt junior, piled up four personal fouls in 10 minutes and went scoreless.
Redshirt freshman small forward Johnny Thomas did not play after spraining his ankle against Fort Valley State. Taking his place in the rotation was fifth-year senior Simon Harris, who had one point in 17 minutes but did add six rebounds.
NC State did though get strong performances from redshirt junior forward Brandon Costner and sophomore forward Tracy Smith. Both finished with 14 points, with Costner adding six rebounds and Smith five. Smith's production came in just 13 minutes of action.
Senior center Ben McCauley was also solid, making 5 of 10 shots for 10 points and six rebounds. Off the bench, junior forward Dennis Horner added nine points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot in 18 minutes.
NC State shot 52.2 percent from the field, but struggled in making just 4 of 19 three-pointers. The defense was able to hold Catawba to 25-of-66 shooting, 37.9 percent. The Pack also rebounded much better after getting beaten on the board by Fort Valley State. NC State held a 47-34 edge in rebounding against the Indians.
After two exhibitions games in September in Canada and two preseason exhibition bouts in November, the Pack will start playing games that count Saturday at New Orleans, the first time NC State has started on the road to open the season since 1997.
"We have to play the same way," Lowe said. "You go out and play as hard as you can and as smart as you can and concentrate on what we're trying to do, and that is to defend, rebound and run. If we do those things then we'll be fine."