Even the new-look NC State men's basketball team looked radically different when 7-foot-1 fifth-year senior center Jordan Vandenberg went down with a left ankle injury Wednesday.
The Wolfpack played small ball without their starting center. Sophomore combo forward T.J. Warren poured in 26 points and 10 rebounds in unveiling his slimmer look, and LSU transfer Ralston Turner added 20 points in a strong all-around effort in defeating UNC Pembroke 96-85 in front of 2,530 fans at historic Reynolds Coliseum.
"A lot of good things tonight but a lot for us to work on," NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. "I like the fact we got 96 points and missed 17 foul shots (23 of 40) and turned the ball over 16 times.
"T.J. and Ralston offensively, played like they've played college basketball before. We don't have a lot of guys that have."
Vandenberg got off to a good start with a pair of baskets off two of sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis' 15 assists, but went down five minutes into the contest. With Vandenberg sidelines and freshman center BeeJay Anya relegated to five minutes due to matchup and conditioning concerns, small ball became the modus operandi for the Wolfpack.
Vandenberg underwent an X-ray Wednesday, which was negative, and will undergo an MRI on Thursday.
"We lose Jordan Vandenberg which is tough, but hopefully not for long," Gottfried said. "We'll see. We become small without Jordan pretty quick."
Warren has lost at least 20 pounds over the last year, and the sleeker version showcase an impressive inside-outside game, and improved leaping ability. Warren always has the GPS pointed to getting baskets, whether he plays small forward or power forward. He would prefer playing with Vandenberg though.
"It was a lot different when Jordan went down," Warren said. "It put a lot of pressure on our bigs to rebound. Our freshman are still learning and adjusting to the offense, and will get better as the season progresses."
Turner was quick to point out he hasn't played a competitive game in 19 months, discounting intra-squad scrimmages.
"It felt pretty good," said Turner, who added four rebounds, four assists and two blocks. "I was just glad to get back out there. I had some jitters and was nervous, but once the game started, I was OK."
Lewis (five points) and prized freshman guard Anthony Barber, who are both former McDonald's All-American's played in the backcourt together at times. Barber added 14 points and two assists in complementing the pass-first Lewis. NC State had just six turnovers in the second half and shot 59.6 percent from the field (34 of 57).
"With Tyler, it's a little bit like Richard Howell rebounding [last year], in that Richard would go get you 15 rebounds and you take it for granted," Gottfried said. "Tyler is like that with assists.
"I thought Cat really did well. I wanted to play the two of them together, which we'll do a lot at different times throughout the year. I thought Cat gave us a spark."
Warren said he's used to seeing Lewis throw alley-oop passes left and right while out on the court.
"Tyler's ability to make passes is unbelievable," Warren said. "When he and Cat, it gives us two good guards in the backcourt with the ability to break down the defense and make basketball plays."
Turner and junior college transfer Desmond Lee handled some of the wing minutes, which led to Warren playing at power forward. Lee scored all 16 of his points in the second half in finding his comfort zone.
"Desmond is real athletic," Turner said. "He can do pretty much a lot of things. He can dribble and he can shoot."
NC State was out-rebounded 44-33 by UNC Pembroke, who were still undersized compared to an ACC program. UNCP held a 19-6 advantage on the offensive boards, which concerned Gottfried.
"Defensively at times, we were OK, but couldn't get a rebound," Gottfried said. "Some of that is we played with a smaller lineup, but we have to rebound the ball better with a small lineup."
Griffin Pittman led UNCP with 23 points, and Quamain Rose added 15 points, seven steals and three assists in the loss.
Gottfried elected to play two exhibition games this season rather than an exhibition and a "secret" scrimmage vs. another Division I team to get his young squad experience in playing in front of crowds.
NC State returns to action for its second and final exhibition game against Morehouse at 5 p.m. Saturday at PNC Arena. UNC at NC State football at nearby Carter-Finley Stadium kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
NC State starts the regular season at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 in a home contest against Appalachian State.