NC State showcased why its ranked No. 6 in both the preseason USA Today coaches poll and The Associated Press poll Friday by crushing out-manned Miami (Ohio) 97-59 in its season opener.
Six players scored in double figures for the Wolfpack who were challenged for about a few minutes in the first half and that was about it by the RedHawks. Senior center Richard Howell finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis had 14 of his 16 points in the second half during his debut in front of a sold-out PNC Arena.
ACC preseason player of the year selection C.J. Leslie dominated with his passing, defense and dunks. The 6-9 versatile power forward had 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks before exiting to an excited crowd.
"We want to lock guys out and stop teams from scoring," Leslie said. "Overall, it was a very good night."
The players enjoyed showing the fans the various skills that led to such lofty preseason expectations.
"I think that is how the whole year is going to go," said NCSU junior point guard Lorenzo Brown, who had 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds. "Everybody is playing their game and playing at a fast pace. We all played team ball last year and we are trying to keep it consistent and keep it going this year."
NC State went 24-13 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Brown feels the team is starting to pick up where they left off despite some personnel changes.
"I think we can be a better team than we were last year," Brown said. "I think it's going to be a great season this year."
NC State coach Mark Gottfried said it was a good start to the season.
"They all did a lot of things well," Gottfried said. "I liked our interior passing. I thought Richard and Calvin set the tone by playing very unselfishly. I thought all three freshmen had some nice moments as well. They all looked comfortable out there to me."
NC State came up sharp to take an early 10-0 lead and didn't allow a basket until there was 17:34 left in the first half.
Leslie set the tone with a big steal and dunk followed by a block on Miami (Ohio) forward Bill Edwards. Leslie used his shot-blocking and passing skills the rest of the half.
Leslie had three nice dishes to Howell that led to easy baskets, and he added three blocked shots, including two back-to-back on one possession.
"We've been playing together for a little while and I'm able to get the ball in there and I'm a good passer," Leslie said. "[Blocking the shots], that felt good.
"Tonight was a good night for us to get our thing going and actually see how it is in a game situation. That was what it was tonight."
Miami (Ohio) made its lone run of the first half, going on a 7-0 spurt to cut the Wolfpack's lead to 21-15 with a little over 10 1/2 minutes to play.
Freshman forward T.J. Warren sparked the Wolfpack's next surge with four quick points to help open up a 27-15 lead. NC State then closed out the half with a 10-2 run to take a 41-22 halftime lead. The highlight of the stretch featured Brown making a sharp crossover dribble and dish to Leslie for a big dunk. Howell also added six of his 12 first-half points during the stretch.
"Lorenzo does that and he's a good guard that can pass the ball," Leslie said. "I'm able to finish, so that the chemistry we have."
NC State also seamlessly worked on its new rotation with Warren checking in with 15:28 left in the first half for Leslie, who in turn helped give Howell a rest almost two minutes later.
Freshman point guard Tyler Lewis helped set the guard rotation in motion, when he came in for Purvis at the 11:47 mark. Brown and Wood were the last to come out. All but sophomore power forward Thomas De Thaey played in the first half among the scholarship players.
"We don't want guys to be tired and to have guys with fresh legs," Brown said. "The guys who come off the bench, need to keep the energy coming."
The smooth rotation was buoyed by NC State shooting a blistering 17 of 26 from the field in the first half for 65.4 percent. The Wolfpack had 12 assists on the baskets, with Brown leading the way with five to go along with his eight points.
NC State finished the game shooting 61.4 percent and had 23 assists on 35 made baskets.
"It's a very unselfish team," Gottfried said.
Miami (Ohio) conversely struggled from the field, shooting 7 of 32 for 21.9 percent against the more athletic NC State defense. The RedHawks were just 3 for 20 inside the three-point arc, and 4 of 12 beyond it.
The shooting barely improved in the second half with Miami (Ohio) settling in at just 29.4 percent.
"When a team shoots 61 percent against you, that should say enough, but we went 29 percent on the other end," Miami (Ohio) first-year coach John Cooper said. "Those numbers don't translate to wins unless were finding a way to turn the other team over 40 times.
"We gave ourselves opportunities, but we broke down on all ends. We were giving up layups in transition, allowing easy baskets after we came up with a score."
NC State's defense was a concern after allowing 80 points against Belmont Abbey in exhibition game last Saturday, but Gottfried saw progress.
"Defensively at times and for stretches, we were pretty good," Gottfried said. "I thought we showed a lot of quickness defensively. The young guys are learning how to defend certain things. I like their defense and this team picked up where we left off last year."
The talented trio of freshmen helped dominate stretches of the second half. The combined 24 points, six assists and five rebounds after settling into the flow of the game. De Thaey also added 10 quick points when he entered the game with 9:06 left.
"They were terrific," Brown said. "They had the jitters like the exhibition game, but Rodney, T.J. and Tyler, came out and showed what they could do."
Warren ended up coming the bench with Purvis starting, but Gottfried said he views things from a different perspective.
"I told both those guys we have six starters," Gottfried said. "I'm just not allowed to start six."
NC State returns to action Nov. 15 against Penn State in Puerto Rico Tip-Off.