NC State shook up its starting lineup and the move paid off handsomely Tuesday against Florida State.
Freshman small forward T.J. Warren exploded for 31 points and 13 boards to lead the Wolfpack to an impressive 84-66 win over FSU in front of 17,011 fans at PNC Arena. NC State improved to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the ACC, and play at North Carolina on Saturday.
Warren tied for the third most points in a game by an NC State freshman, which included teammate Scott Wood's 31-point effort against the Seminoles in 2010. Warren proved to be able to score in a variety of ways, whether inside or outside.
Warren emphatically made his case to remain in the starting lineup.
"We are still trying to figure things out, but whoever is playing good will stay in the game," Warren said. "We are just trying to play our roles and help this team win the best way that we can. Our chemistry is coming together."
The 6-foot-8, 224-pounder from Durham exploded for 20 points in the second half and finished 12 of 15 from the field and he surprisingly made all five free throws.
"When I started to hit my free throws, I just started to notice that I was having a good game and have a feel for it," said Warren, who entered the contest shooting 51.7 percent from the line. "Things just worked out for me tonight. My teammates did a good job of finding me."
Warren's effort coupled with an intense and impressive game by junior power forward C.J. Leslie helped pace the Wolfpack. Leslie finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds . The athletic Leslie had three impressive dunks, but perhaps none better than his follow-up dunk to give the Wolfpack an early 18-9 lead with 10:50 left in the first half.
"That was ridiculous," NCSU junior point guard Lorenzo Brown said. "I was under there and was just looking and said, 'Oh my God.' It was amazing. I think once he does that [play with an edge], nobody can guard him. He's a beast."
Warren and Leslie combined for 14 of the Wolfpack's 21 offensive rebounds, which led to a 29-6 advantage in second-chance points.
"He [Warren] really played fantastic," NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. "I liked that he found ways to get himself open. He had 13 rebounds - eight of those were offensive rebounds. He also did a good job defensively. He took advantage of an opportunity."
Florida State was able to hang around throughout the first half, cutting the Wolfpack's lead to 34-28 on senior wing Michael Snaer's three-pointer with 2:29 left before halftime. NC State finished strong to take a 40-30 lead in halftime.
NC State had previously shown a tendency to allow teams to hang around this season, but the Wolfpack continued to apply the pressure throughout the second half.
Brown conducted the show with nine points and nine assists, including a spectacular feed to Warren for a layup to help stretch the lead to 51-36 with 14:05 left in the game.
NCSU built its lead to a commanding 60-43 after a big power dunk by Leslie off a great Richard Howell assist with 11:20 left in the game. FSU mounted one last push to eventually cut the Wolfpack's lead to 65-55 with 6:52 remaining, and Howell picked up his fourth foul.
NC State had reached its moment of truth, but responded positively to the adversity. Warren hit a three-pointer, and then Wood followed with one of his own to stretch the lead back to 71-55 with 5:24 left. Warren continued his assault to reach 31 points and the Wolfpack came away with an impressive victory.
"We all know he [Warren] can score the ball," Wood said. "He's a real good player for us and he stepped up when we needed him. We know he's capable of that. I told him that all he can do is tie me."
The 91-83 win over North Carolina on Jan. 26 was the last time NC State played the majority of the game leading by double digits.
"I told the guys that we haven't had a blowout game in a while, so it was about time to get one, and we definitely did that tonight," Brown said.
The new lineup, which led to freshman guards Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis to play off the bench, caused Wood to slide down to shooting guard and gave the Wolfpack five players listed 6-5 or taller in the lineup.
"The people that are playing well on the defense end and making smart plays on the offensive end are going to get the minutes," Wood said. "What Coach Gottfried is looking for is great effort and great enthusiasm. That is what he wants."
Florida State fell to 14-12 overall and the program has experienced a 180-degree turn since last year. The Seminoles throttled the Wolfpack 76-62 on Feb. 18, 2012, at PNC Arena, in what is better known as the contest when referee Karl Hess tossed NCSU legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani.
FSU went on to win the ACC Tournament and reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles will need a miracle to return to the Big Dance. Snaer led the way with 20 points and junior power forward Okaro White added 13 in the loss.
"I thought we got manhandled in every area that required energy or physicality," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I was extremely disappointed in how we go from one game having so much energy to the next having none."