NC State's talented trio of freshmen made their resounding debut against Miami (Ohio) last Friday, and now get to play multiple games this week to help accelerate their progress and settle into roles.
Shooting guard Rodney Purvis got the start, and ended up with a big second half, scoring 14 of his 16 points after halftime, and was named the ACC rookie of the week. Combo forward T.J. Warren was the first sub off the bench, and had eight points and three rebounds in 24 minutes. Point guard Tyler Lewis worked his magic in the second half to finish with six points and six assists in 15 minutes of action.
The three McDonald's All-American's helped the Wolfpack land the Rivals.com No. 4-ranked recruiting class in 2012.
"I thought all three of those young guys in the second half really seemed to blossom in that game," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "They played much better. Tyler is in a position where he might not get as many minutes because of his position. The more you are in there for a longer extended amount of time like Tyler was in the second half, the more you get more comfortable. I thought that happened with Tyler."
The freshmen will get the chance to play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament, starting against Penn State at 5 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2. The Wolfpack will then play either Providence or Massachusetts on Friday depending on the outcomes of Thursday's contests in San Juan.
"We are still learning our team and roles, and exactly how this team needs to play and with our rotation and substitute," Gottfried said. "When you play good teams, you are forced to learn more about your team than when you are not. Those things will help us improve."
Gottfried hopes Purvis can use his athletic attributes at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds to become a defensive stopper, and fill the void left by C.J. Williams' graduation. Penn State star senior guard Tim Frazier averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists last year, and had 26 points in the Nittany Lions' season opening 65-58 win against St. Francis (Pa.). NC State junior point guard Lorenzo Brown will start off on Frazier, but Purvis will see some defensive action on him too.
Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill added 16 points and seven boards and is another player Purvis will be guarding on the wing.
Providence junior point guard Bryce Cotton is averaging 22.5 points in two games, and UMass point guard transfer Chaz Williams had 12 points and 10 assists against Harvard Tuesday, while junior wing Jesse Morgan led the Minutemen with 19.
Friday's opponents could keep Purvis, Brown and Lewis busy on the defensive end.
"I think physically Rodney Purvis can be that kind of player," Gottfried said. "He is really young and he doesn't know a lot on how to defend guys on this level, and how hard it is and how consistent you have to be. You have to study players tendencies to learn how they score."
"The first guy out of the gates when you see a really good perimeter wing player on another team is Rodney Purvis."
Gottfried half-joked that Purvis will have to play hard on the defensive end, even though he's always been a gifted score on offense.
"If you want to win and you want to play, then you learn [to play defense]," Gottfried said. "For us to win, we need somebody to do that for us. I think he's accepted that challenge early on."
Gottfried also believes in the long-term defensive potential of Warren on the wing.
"T.J. might not have the quickness, but he has size and length and a pretty good feel," Gottfried said. "He could become a good defender."
Lewis role is pretty clear, even after one game this season, despite the presence of Brown and Purvis.
"Tyler is going to play some as his [Brown's] backup, strictly as 1-for-1, in and out of the game," Gottfried said. "I think we can play Tyler and Lorenzo together, and we did that last year all the time with Alex [Johnson] and Lorenzo.
"That is one of those things with how your team evolves. We'll see how that one plays itself out."