DeShawn Painter knew he was going to shoot it before he even got the ball.
The junior center has been playing with increased confidence and every time he's stepped on the court, but nothing compared to how he seized the moment in the waning seconds against Princeton on Wednesday.
NC State and Princeton battled back-and-forth throughout the second half, but it came down to one play, and Painter made it.
The Wolfpack eschewed calling a timeout and sophomore point guard Lorenzo Brown, who was gutting it out with a damaged ankle and a virus that sent him to the hospital, confidently threw the pass to Painter near the foul line area. The 6-foot-9, 231-pounder let it fly and made the game-winning shot with 4.2 seconds left in the game to give NC State (3-0) a character-building 60-58 victory over Princeton (0-2) in front of 12,140 fans at the RBC Center.
"I knew once I got the ball, I was going to shoot it," Painter said. "I had that confidence and Lorenzo had that confidence in me. He was like, 'I'm going to give it to you Paint, and you have to knock it down.' I just thank God to make that shot. He's been blessing me the last couple of games. It's one of the best feelings in the world."
Brown said he had the option of passing the ball to either Painter or fifth-year senior guard Alex Johnson, who earlier drilled a three-pointer to give NC State a 58-55 lead with 1:55 left. Brown elected to pass to Painter because he was simply closer.
"I kind of had the idea of set a screen up top and work from there," Brown said. "My teammates just fed off of me and read what I was going to do.
"DeShawn popped open. He made the shot, and that's a big shot at that."
Painter finished with 11 points, four rebounds and a block in 23 minutes against the Tigers. It marked the third straight game he scored in double figures, which is a first in his Wolfpack career.
"DeShawn Painter, believe it or not, he makes that shot consistently in practice," NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. "I like the fact that he never hesitated. He caught it and it's a good shot for him. We always talk to the guys about what is a good shot for you."
Painter made his case to be inserted into the starting lineup after coming off the bench for 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, in the season-opening 84-75 win over UNC Asheville Nov. 11. He followed with a career-high 19 points and five boards in the 91-61 waxing of Morehead State last Sunday.
Painter is averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and is shooting a blistering 14 of 20 from the field for 70 percent through three games. Knocking down the game-winning jumper is quite a confidence boost for the Norfolk, Va., product.
"I don't remember [his last game-winning basket], but I think in high school with Boo Williams in AAU," Painter said. "It was just a gutsy shot. You either are going to be the hero and take it, but if you miss the shot, then people will say you are a loser or be mad at you. I pride myself on guts."
Painter's confidence in his mid-range shooting ability has been one of the pleasant surprises through the first three games. He has shown flashes in the past, but appears to have gotten over the hump and has found consistency.
"That's a side of my game that I haven't been able to showcase, but coach is letting me showcase that part of my game," said Painter, who idolizes Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics. "I just haven't had the opportunity or chance to do that. I'm very thankful."
Junior power forward Richard Howell, who is a recruiting classmate of Painter, believes he would have been able to make jump shots like that two years ago, but added some context to that statement.
"I wouldn't say he's improved because he's always had that jump shot, but I'd say his confidence has definitely improved," said Howell, who had 10 points and nine rebounds. "I know two years ago with that kind of time, he would not have took that shot. For him to come out as well as he's played the last two games, his confidence is up."
Painter ended last year on a sour note, getting benched by former coach Sidney Lowe for the last five games of the season.
The former Rivals.com three-star prospect originally signed with Florida, but was released from his letter of intent during the spring of his senior year at Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy. He picked NC State over Maryland and Virginia Tech. Painter's long talked about potential is starting to turn into production.
The first half proved worrisome for the Wolfpack. Princeton went 6 of 7 from three-point land and shot 52 percent overall in the first half to build a 35-32 halftime lead. The Tigers biggest first-half lead was nine after back-to-back baskets from forward Will Barrett.
NC State was also emotionally jarred after losing junior small forward Scott Wood a few minutes into the game with an ankle injury that Gottfried believes will "keep him out for a while." Johnson and freshman Tyler Harris played increased minutes with Wood out.
Brown had to carry NC State and put together a stellar all-around effort while battling a flu-like virus and a sprained ankle suffered during the Morehead State game Sunday. Brown finished with 16 points, eight assists, five rebounds and five steals in 37 minutes in leading his team to victory.
"I had to come out and play because I had an IV in my arm before the game," Brown said. "I had a stomach virus yesterday and I'm playing on a swollen ankle. I just had to tough it out. It was tough but I did it."
Gottfried was proud to see the team dig down and overcome some obstacles, which is what is needed in building a great program. Brown, Harris and backup junior center Jordan Vandenberg, all have been sick this week. Sophomore power forward C.J. Leslie sat out the last of his three-game suspension, and freshman power forward Thomas De Thaey continues to sit out while amateur status is being investigated. Add in Wood's injury and Howell picking up three first-half fouls and the plate was full of adversity.
"I tell our guys all the time that they have to play through everything," Gottfried said. "That is a kind of a phrase we use all the time. I thought our guys could have certainly accepted the fact that Scott isn't playing, Calvin is out, whatever, and they did not do that. They competed really hard."
Princeton shot 28.6 percent in the second half and cooled down from its hot first half. Painter's heroics were needed after Douglas Davis made a three-pointer with 21 seconds left to tie the game at 58-58. Davis finished with a game-high 21 points and five three-pointers.
NC State returns to action at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Vanderbilt as part of the Legends Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.