Quick hits and notes from No. 23/25 NC State's 84-68 victory over Western Michigan in front of 12,576 fans at the PNC Arena in Raleigh Saturday afternoon.
Play of the game
The Broncos came ready to play, trading baskets with NC State for much of the first half and even holding a 22-21 lead with 11:20 to go before halftime. The game was tied 32-32 with 2:33 remaining in the half when the Pack went on a 9-0 run. Helping jumpstart the run was when senior center Richard Howell tapped a defensive rebound out to junior guard Lorenzo Brown, who threw a long outlet pass to senior wing Scott Wood.
Wood was in prime position to pull-up for a three-pointer, and WMU knew it. Defenders raced out to defend Wood on the wing, and he used a pump fake to draw the defense in the air and throw a perfect pass to the slashing freshman forward T.J. Warren for a two-handed dunk, giving NCSU a 37-32 lead with 1:50 to go and forcing WMU to call a timeout.
Highlight of the game
It came on the following NC State possession after the aforementioned play of the game. Wood rose for a three-pointer at the top of the key and in midair he decided to pass to Howell under the basket. Howell proceeded to throw down an authoritative one-handed dunk over WMU 6-foot-10 redshirt junior center Shayne Whittington.
A close second was when junior forward C.J. Leslie ended up with a loose ball near the free throw line, threw to Wood on the block who then quickly lobbed an alley-oop pass back to Leslie for a two-handed dunk with 4:00 left in the game to give the Pack a 77-59 lead.
All of that would have been topped had Leslie finished an nearly-unbelievable fast break. It started when Howell saved the ball inbounds by throwing a pass over his head near halfcourt. Brown happened to be racing to where the pass was going. He caught the ball, threw a behind-the-back pass to Leslie. Leslie went up for what would have been a nasty dunk over Whittington, but Whittington avoided being posterized again by fouling Leslie.
Player of the game
After the game, Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins said that if he had to choose one player off any team that they have played this year, a schedule that included No. 3 Michigan, he would choose Howell.
"He's a beast," Hawkins said.
Howell rebounded from a scoreless effort last Saturday against St. Bonaventure to score 10 of State's first 16 points. He finished with 18 points and nine rebounds before fouling out for the fourth times this year and 11th of his career. Howell also had three assists and two blocks, and he just missed what would have been the seventh double-double of the season and the 20th of his career.
Howell made all eight of his shot attempts, making it the best individual shooting performance for a Wolfpacker since J.J. Hickson made all 12 of his shots against William & Mary in 2007, which was also the best ever shooting performance in the PNC Arena. Howell's effort matched four others for the second-best shooting performance there.
Leslie flips the switch
The Leslie of the first half, even Leslie would acknowledge, was not that good. He had five points and one board at the break and was pulled at one point after taking a long jumper near the top of the key that clearly and visibly made Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried unhappy.
The only noteworthy aspect of Leslie's first half was that he reached 1,000 career points when he scored his fourth point. He became the 46th player in Wolfpack men's basketball history to reach that milestone. Wood also on the current team has over 1,000 career points.
The second half was a different story. Leslie made 4 of 6 shots after the break and finished with a game-high 19 points to go with seven rebounds and three steals. Impressively, Leslie went 9 of 11 at the line Saturday, making him 26 of 33, or 78.8 percent, in the last three games.
Pack keeps on shooting well
NC State once again raised their already impressive shooting average. State came into Saturday shooting a nation-leading 53.4 percent from the field. They went 30 of 55 against Western Michigan for 54.5 percent, upping their season mark a tenth of a point to 53.5 percent.
In addition to Howell's perfect performance, Warren went 7 of 9 from the field. Howell is now shooting 67.4 percent from the field this season while Warren is at 68.9 percent.
Another impressive aspect of State's shooting effort Saturday was Brown going 2 of 2 from three-point range. That's noteworthy because Brown had been in a season-long slump from three-point range, making just 3 of 19 coming in Saturday.
The Pack was also able to protect the basketball, turning it over a season-low eight times.
One area of Saturday that did not please Gottfried was rebounding. The Broncos had a 42-32 edge overall on the glass and 22-10 advantage in offensive rebounding. That helped WMU outscore NC State 26-15 in second-chance points.
Part of that can be explained by Western Michigan shooting just 35.8 percent from the field, making only 24 of 67 shots. It's also not uncommon for NC State to be outrebounded on the offensive glass. It has happened nine times in 12 games this year because the Pack shoots such a high percentage from the field.
Saturday though was NC State's most lopsided loss in both the rebounding and offensive boards margins this year. It was only the fourth time all season NCSU had been outrebounded overall. WMU was able to get an offensive rebound on 22 of its 43 missed shots.
Spotted at the game
WRAL meteorologist Greg Fishel appeared to be helping the Wolfpack's skeleton band play their tunes Saturday.
Also spotted was Wood engaging in several lengthy conversations during free throws with Hawkins. It turns out Hawkins is friends with Wood's high school coach at Marion (Ind.) High, and Hawkins would stop in from time to time on their practices.
What the win means
NC State improves to 10-2 after winning its sixth straight game, matching the longest winning streak of Gottfried's tenure, which is in its second season. State has notched eight straight home wins, which is a new best under Gottfried.
This is the fastest NC State has reached 10 wins in a season since they started 10-2 in 2008-09. The Pack will hope that history does not repeat itself. That squad would lose six of the eight games they played in January after ending December with its 10th win. The losing started when Chandler Parsons made a three-quarter court length shot at the buzzer to give Florida a stunning 68-66 win.
Western Michigan fell to 8-5. This was the first meeting between the two schools. NC State improved to 6-1 all-time against MAC teams.
Other stats of note
- The Wolfpack dominated in the paint, outscoring the Broncos 42-34. State was also much better in transition, owning a 10-4 edge in fast break points.
- NCSU won the turnover margin 12-8 and had a 21-9 advantage in points off turnovers.
- State's bench outscored WMU's reserves 19-12.