GREENSBORO – For the second straight day, N.C. State controlled a team that caused it problems earlier in the season.
And for the second straight year, the Wolfpack looks to be playing its best basketball in March.
No. 5 seed N.C. State dispelled a desperate Virginia squad, 75-56, Friday in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“I think our team is beginning to find that groove,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I think we’re getting in a good spot.”
The Wolfpack (24-9) played a similar game to their first-round victory against Virginia Tech. In both contests, N.C. State shut down the opposing star player, significantly won the rebounding battle and eased to a victory.
N.C. State forward Scott Wood led all scorers with 23 points, and he set two school records to boot. Wood hit seven 3-pointers on the afternoon, a school ACC Tournament record, and in the process he broke Rodney Monroe’s N.C. State record for made for made triples in a career. Wood now has 327 made 3-pointers in his career.
“I’m never really one to go looking and say, ‘Give me the ball,’ but it feels good when you’re knocking down your shots,” Wood said. “It gives you that confidence to know that the next one’s going in.”
Wood did not attempt a 2-pointer, but he didn’t need to. He hit seven of his 12 attempts, including 3-pointers on three consecutive N.C. State possessions early in the second half to blow the game open.
“When the vote came out for All-ACC selections, I was shocked he wasn’t on somebody’s first team – first, second or honorable mention,” Gottfried said. “I was amazed. I think when you play our team, one of the first thing you gotta do is figure out how to guard Scott Wood.”
Most pregame projections had the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (21-11) on the outside of the field of 68 teams that will qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers beat the Wolfpack on Jan. 29 but never looked desperate Friday.
N.C. State led for the final 36 minutes of the game and by double digits for the entire second half.
Of the Cavaliers’ first 24 possessions, 12 ended with missed field goals and six ended with turnovers.
First-Team All-ACC selection Joe Harris committed more turnovers (five) than he made field goals (four), and his 4-for-13 day mirrored that of Virginia, which shot less than 39 percent from the field.
“Every time we tried to make a mini run, if you want to call it that, they would answer with a big three, a big shot, or we’d have a breakdown,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That was the discouraging part, some of those breakdowns we had. You can’t afford them again a team like this.”
T.J. Warren added 18 points for N.C. State, and fellow forward C.J. Leslie tallied 17 points and hauled in 11 rebounds.
Richard Howell had a game-high 12 rebounds but sustained an injury to his right leg when he collided with a defender’s knee on a made shot with 13:43 remaining in the game.
Howell noticeably was limping after the injury, which he said was quite painful, but he returned and was still effective.
Even official Mike Eades commented on Howell’s effectiveness after the injury.
“He said, ‘I’ve never seen you like that, so I knew something was wrong,’” Howell said of his conversation with Eades. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, my knee’s messed up.’ And then he was like, ‘Yeah, they still can’t stop you on the glass.’”
N.C. State earned 11 more rebounds than Virginia, a far cry from earlier in the season when Gottfried was begging the rest of his team to rebound around Howell.
Point guard Lorenzo Brown said the team’s success when rebounding as a unit isn’t a coincidence.
“I think we’re 10 times better,” Brown said. “I think Rich gets worn out with us just watching him. I think when guys help him out, he kind of relaxes a little bit and it helps him out.”
Today, the Wolfpack will play No. 1 seed Miami, which rallied to beat Boston College in the quarterfinals Friday.
The Hurricanes won the first meeting on Feb. 2 in Raleigh on a tip-in with eight-tenths of a second to play.
But that was six weeks ago, before the Wolfpack was hitting its peak.
None of this was planned, Gottfried said. It has just happened.
“I think every coach, if you knew how to get your team playing really well at the end, we’d just all do it automatically,” Gottfried said. “It just sometimes happens that way.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com