RALEIGH – No. 18 N.C. State’s victory against North Carolina on Saturday didn’t prove anything that its Jan. 12 victory against No. 1 Duke already had not: The Wolfpack is a talented team capable of beating anyone in the country.
The Wolfpack did snap a 13-game losing streak to North Carolina – which, in truth, is more useful for fans than players – but N.C. State isn’t overvaluing its 91-83 triumph against the Tar Heels.
N.C. State knows that it once again will become a top-tier basketball program on its entire body of work, not a few good wins. And even though there have been impressive home victories against the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, there also have been losses to Wake Forest and Maryland.
“We’re happy but we’re definitely not satisfied,” N.C. State forward Richard Howell said. “We’re still a little upset after the Wake Forest game. We’re just anxious to get back out on the court and go to practice.”
The Wolfpack (16-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) showed how dangerous it can be in the first half and early portion of the second half, running up a 28-point lead and looking as if it would run North Carolina out of the gym.
Howell (16 points, 14 rebounds), C.J. Leslie (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Lorenzo Brown (20 points, 11 assists) all recorded double-doubles, and five Wolfpack players scored in double digits. A large margin of N.C. State’s scoring, 39 points, came off fast breaks, thanks to a defense that played better than it has all season.
“I thought the first half, the first 20 minutes, defensively, we were as fundamentally sound and unselfish as I’ve seen us be, for that 20 minutes,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “... I loved our defense in the first half, and that’s how we gotta play. Parts of the second half we weren’t nearly as good, but we can get there. A lot of different guys stepped up and made huge plays.”
North Carolina stormed back in the second half and eventually trimmed the lead to five points before N.C. State put away the game at the free throw line.
Gottfried said N.C. State became tired in the second half after running all game, something he believed would subside as the Wolfpack becomes used to playing the fast tempo he wants.
In fact, Gottfried even threatened his players at halftime with a trip to the bench if they began to slow down.
“Our message at halftime was: I did not want our players to become passive,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to attack them, and run and run and run. (If) we were going at some point to walk the ball up the floor, I was going to take them out of the game. That’s not how we’re going to play.”
While there was far more good than bad for N.C. State, which beat North Carolina for the first time in nearly six calendar years, it already has had the high of a big win.
Big wins, however, don’t necessarily guarantee anything else.
“At the end of the day, it only counts for one,” guard Scott Wood said.
The Wolfpack, with five legitimate scorers, plenty of shooting threats and talented post players, believes it has the offense to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
They will be made, both Howell and Gottfried said, on the other end. What they saw Saturday offered hope – nothing more, nothing less.
“I definitely felt like it was our best defensive game. I felt like we were helping each other out on defense. We were talking and cutting off places,” Howell said. “I feel like that’s the difference in a lot of games. The offense is definitely going to be there. We have to show up on ‘D.’”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.