RALEIGH – Simply put, N.C. State needed a game like Tuesday night’s – a thorough domination of a mid-tier conference opponent.
N.C. State’s only worry through the second half inside PNC Arena was whether the Wolfpack would lose focus, like it had done so many times in the past. Led by a freshman making just the fifth start of his career, N.C. State never did during an 84-66 victory against Florida State.
“We needed to play well and feel good about how we played,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “It was an important game for us.”
As one of three freshmen – all of whom were named to the McDonald’s All-America team – forward T.J. Warren never is guaranteed a start. In his fifth career start Tuesday, Warren finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds.
Both were career highs.
His outburst, along with the Wolfpack’s domination in the paint, allowed it to take a 10-point halftime lead. N.C. State (19-7, 8-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) extended the margin throughout the second half, leading by 21 points with 64 seconds to play.
“Every game is must-win for us,” Warren said. “With the talent we have and the hard work we put in, every game, we just want to come out and destroy them.”
Warren’s total is the third-most by an N.C. State freshman and ranks 14th alltime in ACC history for a freshman.
For Warren, his points output started on defense and the offensive glass.
That’s the exact same spot N.C. State’s convincing win began.
The Wolfpack matched Florida State’s rebounding total in the first half with its offensive rebounds alone, a trend that continued through the game. N.C. State finished with 21 offensive rebounds. Florida State (14-12, 6-7) finished with 21 total rebounds.
“We do have to be a better rebounding team,” Gottfried said. “I think at times, our team relies on Richard (Howell) to just go get them all. … We have to be a team where everyone gets involved in the rebounding part of the game.”
Howell finished with seven rebounds, the fewest he has pulled down since Dec. 22, 2012. Still, N.C. State controlled the glass behind a starting lineup that didn’t feature a player shorter than 6-foot-5.
C.J. Leslie had 10 rebounds and 19 points. Scott Wood, who hit the 300th 3-pointer of his career in the first half, finished with 13 points.
“I’ve probably taken a lot more than 300 to tell you that much,” Wood said with a smile.
N.C. State, which ended a three-game losing streak to Florida State on Tuesday, now has won three straight games since losing five of seven after upsetting then-No. 1 Duke.
“We’re starting to play a little bit better,” Wood said. “We finished the game, which is something we haven’t done in a while. The main thing is to keep getting these wins and build off of it.”
N.C. State was able to pull its starters in the final minute as the crowd chanted T.J. Warren’s name. It was the first time since high school that the 6-foot-8 forward heard his name rhythmically cheered.
There were probably a few more voices inside PNC Arena than the last time time that occured.
“I’m proud of him,” Gottfried said. “Sometimes for freshmen, they up and they’re down. They’re up and they’re down. He got an opportunity to step into the lineup (Tuesday), and I thought he took advantage of it.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com