Quick hits and notes from NC State's key 65-58 win at Tennessee in front of 14,831 fans at Thompson-Boiling Arena in Knoxville Wednesday evening.
Play of the game
Even when NC State had a 17-point lead at halftime, everyone knew that a Tennessee run, especially on the Volunteers' home court, was coming. Indeed, the Vols went on a 9-2 run to slice NC State's lead to 48-43 with under eight minutes to go. Warren though was able to take a short outlet pass from freshman power forward Lennard Freeman and race down the court to beat all Tennessee defenders and soar for a dunk to put the Pack up 50-43 with 7:01 remaining.
Highlight of the game
It didn't count, but it was still pretty. Tennessee junior big man Jarnell Stokes appeared to have posterized NCSU freshman point guard Anthony Barber at the end of a fast break with 5:49 to go in the first half. Instead, Stokes was called for charging into Barber, so the dunk did not count. Stokes clearly got a knee into the chest of a set Barber, but Tennessee fans would validly argue that Barber's heels were on the charge/block semicircle under the basket, which would mean Barber should have been whistled for a blocking foul.
Player of the game
The easy choice would be to go with Warren, who had a game-high 21 points for his fifth straight 20-plus game scoring effort and added 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the year.
However, we are going off the radar a little on this one and going with freshman center BeeJay Anya, who made a rare contribution in his early career. Anya has only played once in the last four games, and that was for just three minutes at the end of a blowout win over Northwestern Dec. 4.
Against Tennessee, with fifth-year senior Jordan Vandenberg, Freeman and freshman big man Kyle Washington all battling foul troubles to varying degrees, Anya came up big. He played 24 minutes, easily surpassing his previous most of 15 against Campbell on Nov. 16. Although Anya only scored two points, his first since he had six against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 26, he blocked five shots and had a steal. Anya had six blocks total coming into this game.
Defending the paint
Anya's five blocks did not even equal half of NC State's game total. Vandenberg, who played a season-low 12 minutes because of foul trouble, had four blocks in his limited action, his second highest total of the year. He had five blocks in the win over Northwestern. Through six contests, Vandenberg has 22 blocks, an average of 3.7 a game.
Washington had two blocks on the same possession, doubling his season total and matching the two blocks he had against Long Beach State on Dec. 7 for his personal-best. Freeman also had a rejection, and the 12 total swats for NCSU is the fifth most ever in a single game for NC State basketball.
The foursome made life difficult for Stokes, who came into Wednesday's game averaging 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds and making 56.9 percent of his field goal attempts. Stokes had 10 points and shot just 4 of 10 from the field. Stokes did get 13 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the year and fifth in the past six contests.
The intimidation around the basket helped NC State hold Tennessee to 20-of-68 shooting for 29.4 percent, easily the Volunteers worst effort of the year. Their previous low had been 34.9 percent against UTEP on Nov. 28. This was not NCSU's best single-game field goal percentage defense however. Northwestern made just 25.0 percent of its shots (13 of 52).
Tennessee's shooting woes cannot be entirely attributed to blocked shots around the basket. The Vols were a woeful 3 of 24 from long range for 12.5 percent, another season-worst effort. That is also the lowest percentage allowed by NCSU in a game this year thus far.
Not State's best offensive effort
NC State had flashes of good offensive play Wednesday but had trouble sustaining them. NC State ended shooting just 24 of 54 for 44.4 percent, the third lowest field goal percentage in a game this year and worst in a winning effort.
The Wolfpack, for the second consecutive game, was unusually sloppy. State had a season-high 16 turnovers. Prior to having 15 giveaways against Detroit last Saturday, the Pack had not turned it over more than 11 times in its first eight games of the year.
The chief culprits against Tennessee were Barber and Warren. Barber had six turnovers, a new career-worst mark, and Warren gave it up five times, also a career-high. NCSU's eight assists as a team was the second lowest for a game, trailing only the seven they had in a loss at Cincinnati on Nov. 12.
NC State did shoot a season-best 50.0 percent against Tennessee from three-point territory, but that number is a bit misleading. They attempted a season-low six shots from long range.
What the win means
NC State has now won six straight since Vandenberg's return and Barber's insertion into the starting lineup and has improved to 8-2 overall. Tennessee falls to 6-4. The Pack remains undefeated in the month of December this year in four games.
The Wolfpack is now 6-3 all-time against Tennessee and 87-60 versus current SEC-affiliated teams. NCSU third-year head coach Mark Gottfried improved to 10-5 personally against Tennessee, with all of his previous wins and losses coming as the head coach at Alabama.
The win is NCSU's most significant non-conference road win since Sidney Lowe's squad upset Marquette on Dec. 5, 2009. Under Gottfried, NC State is 1-3 in true road games against non-conference foes (previous losses were to Stanford, Michigan and Cincinnati) and 6-2 in regular season neutral court games against teams outside the ACC.
Other stats of note
- NC State outrebounded Tennessee 43-41 overall, giving the Pack its seventh positive rebounding margin of the season. This was just the third time Tennessee had lost the overall battle on the boards, but the Vols, partially because of the wide disparity in field goal percentages, won the offensive rebounding 20-13. Both teams had 16 second-chance points.
- Tennessee was able to turn a 16-10 turnover margin advantage into a 17-12 edge in points off turnovers. Neither team had much scoring in transition though, with NCSU owning a miniscule 8-7 edge in fast break points.
- Probably thanks to the blocked shots, NC State had a 36-26 advantage in points in the paint.
- How thorough was NCSU's control on this game? They scored the opening six points of the night, and Tennessee never even battled back to even tie the game. NC State led from start to finish.