Quick hits and notes from NC State's 76-54 win over San Diego on New Year's Day in front of 11,384 fans at the RBC Center.
Play of the game
NC State led 30-15 when the Pack got a sweet play from perhaps its two best performers Saturday. Sophomore power forward Richard Howell provided a nice low post pass from one block to the other to an open senior Tracy Smith.
Smith, making his first appearance since knee surgery Nov. 19, rose up for a two-handed dunk to give State a 32-15 lead with 5:18 left in the game. It was the first time Smith slammed it home in the game and showed that his knee appeared to have fully healed.
Highlight of the game
Freshman guard Lorenzo Brown helped ignite NC State quickly when he went up high for a one-handed dunk off a missed three-pointer from senior guard Javier Gonzalez to give the Pack a 10-3 lead with 15:21 left in the first half.
Player of the game
Smith made a memorable return, playing a surprisingly high 25 minutes off the bench, and finished with a game-high 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
However, our choice for player of the game was Howell, who played with great energy from the moment he entered the game and had probably his best performance of the year. Howell finished with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds and also added a game-high five assists and a pair of steals. Howell set a new career-high in rebounds and matched his best for assists, and he recorded his second double-double this season and the third of his career.
Dominating the boards
The most eye-popping number from NC State's win Saturday was rebounding. The Pack, led by Howell, had a decisive 45-25 advantage on the board, including 12-9 on the offensive glass that led to a decisive 19-9 edge in second-chance points. The offensive rebounding total was even better considering that NC State shot 55.2 percent from the field, making 32 of 58 shots, while San Diego shot just 20 of 59 for 33.9 percent.
After being outrebounded in four of its first six games, NC State has now outrebounded their opposition in seven straight contests. The plus-20 edge on the glass Saturday was the largest of the year for the Pack, surpassing a plus-15 margin against Youngstown State Dec. 16. State has outrebounded three of the last five teams by at least 10 boards.
Turning a corner?
Granted the last two games have been against Alabama A&M and San Diego, two teams that have a combined overall record of 6-17 after Saturday, but the Pack have played much better since uninspiring efforts against Youngstown State and Delaware State.
NC State defeated Alabama A&M 82-51 Dec. 28, and they shot 56.9 percent against the Bulldogs while holding Alabama A&M to just 31.8 percent. NC State has recorded their two most lopsided wins of the year the last two times out, had two of their three best shooting efforts this season and held their opponents to their two lowest field goal percentages.
Freshman guards play well
In addition to the dominance in the paint from Smith and Howell, NC State also got good performances on the perimeter from Brown and fellow freshman guard Ryan Harrow/ Brown scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, shaking off recent shooting struggles when he made just 4 of 15 shots combined against Delaware State and Alabama A&M.
Harrow made 6 of 7 shots for 12 points in 21 minutes, although he did a have just two assists to go with three turnovers.
Not all positive
A couple of players of note struggled a little bit Saturday. Sophomore wing Scott Wood was held scoreless in 29 minutes, missing all three of his shot attempts, all of which were three-pointers. This was the first time this season that Wood has been held scoreless and the first time since he did not score against South Florida in the first round of the NIT March 16, 2010. Wood entered the game as NC State's leading scorer at 11.3 points per game.
Freshman forward C.J. Leslie, who had been playing well over his last six games, averaging 11.8 points and 11.3 rebounds a contest, was just 1-of-6 shooting and finished with two points to go with eight rebounds in 16 minutes, his fewest playing time since playing 15 minutes at Wisconsin.
NC State also had 17 turnovers compared to just 12 for San Diego. That was the second-highest turnover total of the year for NC State behind 19 at Syracuse Dec. 4. The Pack has now had more turnovers than their opponents in six of the last seven games.
What the win means
NC State improved to 9-4 on the year while San Diego fell to 3-11. The Pack wrapped up a six-game homestand with a 5-1 mark and improve their overall home record to 7-1. The Pack also won the first ever meeting between NC State and San Diego. State is now 7-4 all-time against teams from the West Coast Conference.
NC State is now 90-12 all-time against non-conference teams in the RBC Center, 34-6 under head coach Sidney Lowe. Lowe recorded win No. 80 at NC State and improved his record in Raleigh to 80-66.
Other stats of note
- Despite committing five more turnovers than San Diego, NC State had a 22-16 edge in points off turnovers.
- NC State had a 12-8 advantage in fast break points.
- The Pack's bench outscored San Diego's reserves 48-23.
- The return of Smith helped NC State have a 46-24 edge in points in the paint.