College Basketball Nation: C.J. Leslie

Mark Gottfried picked an inopportune time to reload.

His North Carolina State squad lost the bulk of its key pieces from last season. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown entered the draft. Richard Howell exhausted his eligibility. And former McDonald’s All-American Rodney Purvis transferred to Connecticut.

The Wolfpack signed a 2013 recruiting class that’s ranked 13th in the country. That will help. But Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt will join the ACC next season. That won’t help.

And it won’t ease his plight, especially with the best team in America standing in the Wolfpack’s way.

Gottfried believes that Duke should be the No. 1 team in the country entering next season. Not only does he believe it, he “can’t imagine” any other team holding that slot.


Per David Morrison of the Greensboro News & Record, who attended NC State’s annual summer news conference on Tuesday:
With freshman Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood added to the mix, Gottfried feels as if Duke could have the second and third picks of next year's NBA Draft playing on its perimeter.

"There's a lot of attention around Jabari Parker, but wait until you see Rodney Hood," Gottfried said. "He's that good. They're loaded."

Hood, who injured his Achilles tendon during the Team USA World University Games tryout camp, should be full-speed by the fall.

Plus the Blue Devils bring back starters Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, reintroduce Andre Dawkins and bring in freshmen Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones on the wings.

That's quite a stacked perimeter.

"We'll all have a great time trying to get ready for that," Gottfried said bemusedly.

That's why, when handicapping the league at the beginning of July, Gottfried's eyes are straying to Durham.

"I can't imagine anybody else being picked No. 1 in the country than Duke," Gottfried said.

Now, Gottfried’s praise is valid. Duke will be legit next season.

Parker was the biggest thing in the 2013 class before Andrew Wiggins reclassified. And Hood, if healthy, could be a high-level NBA prospect, too.

But has Gottfried ever been to the state of Kentucky? There are a few teams there that might have a case for No. 1. This guy, John Calipari, signed six McDonald’s All-Americans. In one class.

The Wildcats should be OK, right?

Oh and there is this Louisville squad, too. Some coach named Rick Pitino led that team to the national championship a few months ago, and his program retained multiple key contributors. The Cardinals should be solid, too.

And Kansas has Wiggins. So there’s that. Michigan State, Arizona, Syracuse and Florida will also be in the mix.

Perhaps Gottfried simply, uh, misspoke.
It’s not my job to second-guess the decisions the following players made when they entered the NBA draft without exhausting their collective collegiate eligibility. There are often personal situations tied to these calls.

But the reality is that these athletes were not selected during Thursday night’s draft. So perhaps another year in school would have been beneficial. It’s also important to note that many undrafted players will earn a slot on an NBA summer league squad or sign a free-agent contract soon, so this doesn’t mean that their NBA dreams are finished.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Leslie
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesDespite having another stellar season at NC State, C.J. Leslie got passed over in Thursday's draft.
C.J. Leslie (NC State) -- After leading his team to the Sweet 16 in 2012, Leslie appeared to be a lock for the first round of that summer’s NBA draft. He decided to return for his junior season, and his numbers were similar to his stats from 2011-12 (15.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG). He scored 20 points (8-for-12) in NC State’s round-of-64 loss to Temple in the NCAA tournament in March. Maybe another year would have allowed Leslie to add some muscle to his 6-foot-9, 200-pound frame, squash concerns about his leadership ability and prove that he can be a high-energy guy every night. Still, many players who were drafted lack his upside. This is stunning.

Phil Pressey (Missouri) -- Pressey was both brilliant and frustrating in three years at Missouri. On his best days, he was a 6-foot dynamic playmaker who could get to the rim and create offense for the Tigers. On his worst days, he was a turnover machine who made poor choices. His decision to turn pro was certainly surprising. He averaged 3.5 turnovers per game and only made 32 percent of his 3-pointers last season. Both were declines from the season prior. For an undersized point guard with turnover issues and limited shooting ability, one more year in Columbia could have enhanced his pro future.

Adonis Thomas (Memphis) -- Everyone wants a LeBron James clone. In recent years, the value of the 6-7 wing has skyrocketed. If you’re big and you can play on the perimeter a little bit, then the general assumption now is that you have “pro potential.” Thomas has pro potential, but his sophomore season was not an affirmation of that. He shot just 40.5 percent from the field and made 29.2 percent of his 3-pointers. It was his first full season after an ankle injury interrupted his freshman campaign, and even though he has all of the physical tools to compete in the NBA, he apparently didn’t wow execs in Year 2.

Vander Blue (Marquette) -- This was a classic case of “instant draft buzz,” I think. Blue had a stellar postseason and led Marquette to the Elite Eight. That effort included a 29-point barrage against Butler in the round of 32, but also included a 3-for-15 performance in a 55-39 loss to Syracuse in the regional final. But the perception about his NBA future had shifted dramatically during Marquette's run in the Big Dance. Blue could have entered 2013-14 as a preseason All-American. I wasn’t surprised when he entered the draft. I was surprised when he stayed in the draft. The 6-4 wing will have to find another way into the league.

Myck Kabongo (Texas) -- Well, this wasn’t the plan. Kabongo, a former McDonald’s All American, turned pro following a tumultuous season with the Longhorns. He was suspended for 23 games as a result of an NCAA investigation, but was a standout in the limited time he was available. He averaged 14.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 APG and 2.0 SPG in 2012-13. Pro execs, however, might have had concerns about his character; Kabongo was suspended after he lied to investigators about receiving impermissible benefits. His brief appearances last season did not help his cause. Looking at the current mess in Texas, however, returning might not have been the best move, either.

Dewayne Dedmon (USC) -- Dedmon had an unconventional journey to Division I basketball. He was a gray shirt and redshirt at Antelope Valley College before joining USC’s program. And he redshirted in 2010-11 with the Trojans. The 7-footer is a project. And that’s probably why he went undrafted. He hasn’t played a lot of organized basketball, so he’s still raw. He averaged 6.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.1 BPG and 1.1 SPG in 2012-13. Solid numbers, but not enough to convince NBA teams to draft him. His size and upside, however, suggest that he’ll get a shot somewhere.

B.J. Young (Arkansas) -- During the 2012-13 season, Young scored 29 points against Arizona State, 25 against Syracuse, 25 against Tennessee and 27 against Missouri. The 6-3 combo guard was an offensive catalyst for the Razorbacks. But shooting concerns only magnified questions about the position he’d play at the next level. He was a 23 percent shooter from beyond the arc last season, and he made just 67 percent of his free throws. Those numbers were probably more significant for NBA execs than his 15.2 PPG average and offensive explosions.

C.J. Aiken (Saint Joseph’s) -- Aiken is an explosive athlete who tortured Atlantic 10 squads with his ability to alter and block shots. But can a 6-9, 201-pound post presence duplicate that in the NBA? And if he can’t, can he defend NBA wings? Those were the immediate questions after he decided to enter the draft. Plus, his offense is raw and limited; he shot 25.3 percent from the 3-point line last season, but also averaged 10.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 2.6 BPG. He’s the kind of young man some NBA team will sign this offseason. He’ll get a chance to prove that he’s equipped to be an effective defender and offensive contributor at the next level.

Tahj Tate (Delaware State) -- This might be a case of a player who went undrafted because of the competition he faced and where he played. Or maybe it’s a talent thing. Tate earned second-team All-MEAC honors in 2012-13 after averaging 12.8 points a game. Now, the YouTube clips suggest that the 6-4 guard is a great athlete. But he wasn’t a great shooter (29 percent from 3-point range), and he actually was a better scorer in 2011-12. Still a head-scratcher on the surface. Again, we don’t know his thought process prior to this decision. But he seems like a long shot to crack a pro roster in the near future.

John Taylor (Fresno Pacific) -- Taylor would not have been the first player drafted from the Division II ranks. But it certainly would have been a surprise, even though Taylor had a phenomenal junior season at Fresno Pacific. The guard led Division II with an average of 27.5 points a game and his team to a 21-9 record. He also earned a national title in junior college. This would not be a shock if Taylor had put up similar numbers at a Division I school, but it’s difficult to project a player’s ability when he hasn’t faced the top competition at the collegiate level. Still, he probably did as much as he could within Division II basketball.

Editor's Note: For Dana O'Neil's piece on the search for Renardo Sidney and the perils of basketball talent gone awry, click here.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

March, 8, 2013
So what was more surprising on Thursday night: Michael Snaer's fourth game winner this season (and sixth over the past two seasons), or another loss by Virginia, which continues to play slip-and-slide with the NCAA tournament bubble? With one more weekend left in the ACC’s regular season -- and it could be a doozy -- here’s another attempt at the league’s power rankings:

1. Duke. Ryan Kelly missed two months with a foot injury, but he sure hasn’t looked like it. The Blue Devils forward has averaged 27 points in the two games since his return, scoring 36 in Duke's down-to-the-wire nail-biter Saturday against then-No. 5 Miami, and then 18 on Tuesday's Senior Night against Virginia Tech. Duke is now 17-0 this season with Kelly in the lineup -- and will be trying for 18-0 in Saturday’s showdown at UNC.

2. North Carolina. One of the keys to the Tar Heels going small? Getting some big play out of wing Reggie Bullock. The junior has posted three double-doubles in UNC’s past four games, and is averaging 15.5 points and 9 rebounds during his team’s six-game winning streak. The Tar Heels have secured a first-day ACC tournament bye. And as for that NCAA tournament bubble -- what bubble?

3. Miami. Just two weeks ago, it looked as if the Hurricanes were going to win the ACC regular season in a runaway. But they’ve now dropped three of their past four -- including the down-to-the-wire classic at Duke last weekend and Wednesday's loss to Georgia Tech when they squandered a double-digit lead. Miami can still clinch the outright regular-season title versus Clemson on Saturday. But the Canes drop in these power rankings after an 0-2 week.

4. NC State. In his last game of the season at PNC Arena on Wednesday, forward C.J. Leslie played his most complete game of the season -- recording 19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack have now won six of their past seven games and this weekend still could earn the third seed in the league tournament.

5. Michael Snaer. Florida State could be lower in these rankings, but the senior guard deserves an upper-half slot all by himself. After all, if not for his four game winners this season -- the latest on a left-handed runner with 4 seconds left against Virginia on Thursday night -- the Seminoles would be 4-13 in ACC play, instead of 8-9. FSU has now won two of its past three games, with Snaer averaging 18.3 points during that stretch.

6. Virginia. Is there an odder team out there, NCAA projection-wise, than the Cavaliers? Thursday night’s last-second loss at Florida State means UVa now has lost four of its past six games -- and its past two, at Boston College and at FSU, have come against teams with sub-.500 ACC records. Entering the game, the Cavs already had won four games this season against teams with a top-50 RPI, but lost four games against teams with RPIs below 150. What would you do if you were on the selection committee?

7. Maryland. Too many turnovers; too much inconsistency. As a result, the Terps are now 2-3 since their Feb. 16 upset of Duke, and they’re probably going to need the league’s automatic bid (via winning the ACC tournament) to make the NCAA field. It has been a disappointing, frustrating few weeks for coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland fans, and for good reason.

8. Georgia Tech. Talk about a confidence boost: Marcus Georges-Hunt's tip-in at the buzzer against Miami secured the Yellow Jackets’ first victory over a top-25 team since March 2010. Chris Bolden's career-high 21 points were also key to Tech winning for the second time in three games.

9. Boston College. It was a positive week for the Eagles, who got a game-winning 3-pointer from Joe Rahon with 8.2 seconds left against Virginia, followed by a solid Olivier Hanlan-led victory at Clemson. It marked the first time Rahon has scored in double figures in back-to-back games in league play, and it was Hanlan’s fourth conference game with 20 or more points.

10. Wake Forest. The Deacs have now lost three straight since upsetting Miami -- including Wednesday at NC State, where they were missing point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre because of strep throat. Senior C.J. Harris has made only 9 of 31 shots over his past three games.

11. Clemson. The Tigers have now lost five straight, and eight of their past nine. Senior forward Devin Booker is finishing strong individually, however, averaging 17.6 points over the last quintet of losses. Clemson travels to Miami on Saturday for its regular-season finale.

12. Virginia Tech. Guard Erick Green enters his final regular-season ACC game (at Wake Forest on Sunday) as the nation’s leading scorer (25 points per game). How many ACC Player of the Year votes will he get?

Paige's improved play propels UNC

February, 23, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t have to tell point guard Marcus Paige that he needed to play a whole lot better Saturday than the previous time the Tar Heels faced NC State.

Paige knew.

And he did.

The freshman, who looked lost and performed like it when the Tar Heels got whipped by the Wolfpack last month in Raleigh, rallied his team with an inspired, confident, 14-point, eight-assist effort during UNC’s 76-65 victory at the Smith Center.

NC State coach Mark Gottfried called Paige’s shots down the stretch Saturday “timely.”

And they were. But not just for that game -- also for the future of a Tar Heels team that finally seems to be putting its pieces together cohesively after switching to a smaller lineup four games ago.

“It’s just confidence and experience -- he has those now," senior guard Dexter Strickland said. “For [Paige] to be able to step up and hit those shots now, that’s huge for us, and where we are as a team.”

Where they are now, at 19-8 overall and 9-5 in the ACC, is third place in the league standings -- a half-game ahead of Virginia (which plays Sunday) and a full game ahead of the Wolfpack (19-8, 8-6). That’s important because only the top four teams earn a first-day bye in the ACC tournament.

And where they are now is looking calmer and more capable, going 3-1 since 6-foot-5 wing P.J. Hairston was inserted into the starting lineup, in place of 6-9 forward Desmond Hubert. The switch has made the Tar Heels faster, put another scorer on the floor, and opened more lanes for both Paige and Strickland to get to the basket.

“I think we’re starting to click more a little bit," Paige said.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bullock
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesNorth Carolina's Reggie Bullock impressed with his shooting ability Thursday.
A big part of that click is Paige, who went 2-for-11 with four assists and three turnovers during the Tar Heels' 91-83 loss last month at NC State. During that game, the freshman got outclassed by Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown, who pushed a strong transition game -- and pushed past Paige on a regular basis. And the Tar Heels, Paige said, "got a little bit embarrassed," falling behind by as many as 28 points.

“That was the first time I played against a really big-time player, and he got the best of me in that matchup," Paige said. “[But] I couldn’t let him have a big night this time, because he kind of makes their whole offense go. I just wanted to try to contain him and make things as difficult for him as I could. And it ended up working out.”

Brown, still not quite 100 percent after an ankle sprain that sidelined him for two games earlier this month, finished with 12 points and 12 assists Saturday. But this time around, Paige was the aggressor -- especially when it mattered most.

After NC State used a 13-2 run early in the second half to turn a 10-point deficit into a 43-42 lead, Williams used his pull-'em-all approach, and inserted Paige, Luke Davis, J.P. Tokoto, Jackson Simmons and Hubert to give his more-used players a few minutes to ponder their lack of focus. Paige hit a 3-pointer -- a key shot considering Wolfpack wing Scott Wood countered with back-to-back 3s to extend his team’s run to 19-5.

But it was a few minutes later, with State still leading 55-52, when Paige really made his presence felt.

During what would become an 18-2 breakaway, and with the regulars back on the floor, he buried a 3-pointer to give the Tar Heels a 57-55 lead. After two Leslie McDonald free throws and a Reggie Bullock 3, he drove past Wood for a three-point play. And after another Bullock 3-pointer, Paige buried two free throws to give his team a comfy 70-57 cushion with less than four minutes left.

“I just think you’ve got to be able to step up and make big shots in times like that," Paige said. “And if defenses are going to leave you open, they’re challenging you to make shots like that. So to step up and make shots like that, that was big for me.”

And his team.

Bullock, who finished with a game-high 22 points and a career-high-tying 13 rebounds, also was big for UNC. As was the fact that NC State star forward C.J. Leslie finished with as many turnovers as points (6), and that the Tar Heels scored 24 points off turnovers (the Wolfpack had 16 for the game).

But Paige’s obvious growth since the previous time he faced NC State on Jan. 26 pulled it all together. It kept the rival Wolfpack from sweeping the Tar Heels for the first time since 2002-03. And it propelled the Tar Heels to their third consecutive victory.

He needed to improve. He knew it. And he did.

“My freshman is a tough little nut," Williams said. “And he’s getting better and better.”

DURHAM, N.C. -- The last time Duke played NC State -- an eight-point loss in Raleigh last month that snapped a 15-game Blue Devils winning streak and pushed them out of the top spot in the national polls -- it was still searching for an offensive identity without senior forward Ryan Kelly.

Looks like the fourth-ranked Blue Devils have found it.

Using a bevy of pretty 3-pointers, No. 4 Duke ripped off a big lead to open Thursday's rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Using some patience and emotion and a whole bunch of free throws, it withstood a Wolfpack rally down the stretch and won 98-85.

“We’d love to have Ryan back, but we’ve learned how to play with this group,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I’m not saying we’re a great team -- but we’re a good team now, with this group.”

They were a group with a lot of question marks mere weeks ago, when the 6-foot-11 Kelly -- a key component of the attack, what with the way he could draw defenses away from the lane with his 3-pointers -- was sidelined with an injured right foot.

The Blue Devils looked befuddled in their first game without him, allowing State to score (and score, and score) in transition on Jan. 12, while Duke struggled to hit 3s.

And they looked downright bad two games later, when they went to Miami on Jan. 23 and got embarrassed by 27 points.

With its fourth consecutive victory on Thursday, though, Duke (20-2, 7-2 ACC) showed that all of its talented pieces have re-formed a cohesive unit.

There were guards Seth Curry and Quinn Cook, accounting for eight of Duke’s 10 first-half 3-pointers to build a 21-point cushion at the break.

[+] EnlargeMason Plumlee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsAnother 30-point performance from Mason Plumlee spurred Duke to its fourth win in a row.
There was forward Mason Plumlee, recording his second 30-or-more-point game in three outings -- including two technical free throws with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left, when State’s Richard Howell earned a flagrant foul on an elbow and fouled out.

And there were Alex Murphy (four points, highlight-worthy two-handed dunk), Tyler Thornton (six assists in 18 minutes), Amile Jefferson (four points, five rebounds), and Rasheed Sulaimon (11 points) contributing and doing their parts -- key because the Devils were down to eight healthy scholarship players (forward Josh Hairston was sidelined with an infection).

“When Ryan goes down, a lot of guys started keying on Mason and Seth, so that gives all of us the opportunity to be more aggressive,” Cook said. “We have to step up. And I think everybody is answering the call.”

State, playing its second game without starting point guard Lorenzo Brown, made it interesting in the second half, shooting a net-burning 65.5 percent and cutting the once-22-point lead to as little as eight on a Scott Wood 3-pointer with 68 seconds left.

But with Howell (23 points, nine rebounds) and C.J. Leslie (16 points, six rebounds) benched by five fouls, the Wolfpack ran out of firepower, and time. Duke make sure of it.

“For two teams that have key players out, what a performance by both teams,” Krzyzewski said. “That was ACC basketball tonight. I thought both teams played their hearts out. I don’t know if we can play any harder or better in the first half. [But] they’re so talented, especially on the offensive end, they’re never out of a game, they’re good.

"They’re just really good.”

But so, again, is Duke, which is competing not for the chance at revenge, Krzyzewski said, but for the opportunity to improve.

Looks like it has.

“For sure,” Plumlee said. “And when [Ryan] gets back, we’ll just get better. Because we’ll have more guys with experience; it won’t be a thing like, ‘How do people respond when he gets back?’ Because me and Seth have played with him, and the young guys have played with him. We’re going to be a better team because of this.”

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Beating North Carolina, NC State coach Mark Gottfried knows, doesn’t guarantee his team anything. It could still win big. Lose late. The Wolfpack already have done both; and anything in this long, strange ACC season can still happen.

"But for tonight, this one night, it does give us a step in the right direction," the second-year Wolfpack coach said after his 18th-ranked team topped the Tar Heels, 91-83.

For all of State’s accomplishments this season -- a top-10 preseason ranking, a 10-game winning streak, an upset over No. 1 Duke -- there’s something extra significant to this particular victory.

Since the late 1980s or so, NC State has served as an oft-forgotten stepbrother to Duke and UNC in the Triangle, an "other guy" status that made Wolfpack fans seethe but foes simply shrug.

But by beating the Tar Heels for the first time since 2007 (snapping a 13-game losing streak), and topping both of their Tobacco Road rivals for the first time since 2002-03, the Pack not only tossed another monkey off their back, but perhaps their hat back into the ring.

"We feel like this is a chance to make history right now, a step forward," said senior Richard Howell, who had never beaten the Tar Heels until Saturday. “It’s been one-sided a lot between Duke and UNC and NC State, and now we’re part of the change.”

After a midweek loss at Wake Forest led to a clear-the-air Wolfpack team meeting, there was a mingled sense of revelry and relief at PNC Arena after the victory.

[+] EnlargeRichard Howell,
AP Photo/Ted RichardsonSenior Richard Howell had 16 points and 14 boards in his first win over North Carolina.

State -- with its balanced offense and exuberant crowd -- dominated from the outset, using its bigger frontcourt of Howell and C.J. Leslie to get UNC forward James Michael McAdoo into foul trouble early (two in the first two minutes) and its junior point guard, Lorenzo Brown, to discombobulate Tar Heels freshman Marcus Paige often.

Playing what Gottfried called "our most fundamentally sound defense of the season" in the first 20 minutes, State outscored UNC 20-0 on fast-break points by halftime (thus beating the Tar Heels at their own usual game), and it led by as many as 28 points with 13 minutes, 22 seconds left -- because it refused to stop pushing.

"Our message at halftime was: We did not want our players to become passive," Gottfried said. "We wanted to attack them, and run and run and run."

It looked, for a while, as if it could be a 40-point slap-down; at one point, frustrated UNC had third-stringers Jackson Simmons and Luke Davis on the court at the same time.

But the Tar Heels, who had won three straight after starting the ACC season 0-2, finally chipped back with a barrage of outside shots. Sophomore P.J. Hairston’s 3-pointer, followed by McAdoo’s follow dunk, cut State’s lead to as little as 85-80 with 28 seconds left.

But senior guard Scott Wood -- yet another player in the Wolfpack’s arsenal -- made two free throws to push the cushion back to seven points.

It wasn’t easy down the stretch. But it was a win.

"It was a butt-kicking is what it was," said UNC coach Roy Williams, whose team is still trying to find an identity after losing four of last season's starters to the NBA draft.

"I’m not big into moral victories," he added, referring to his team’s rally. " ... NC State was more prepared, had a greater since of urgency, worked harder."

Indeed, in the end, the Wolfpack dominated almost every category of the game: points in the paint (44-34), fast-break points (39-19), rebounding (36-29), assists (22-21), shooting (49.2 percent)

Hairston led the Tar Heels with 19 points, but three Wolfpack players finished with double-doubles: Howell (16 points, 14 rebounds), Leslie (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Brown (20 points, 11 assists). Freshman T.J. Warren also chipped in 19 points, and Wood finished with 12.

Asked about the next step in his team’s progression, Howell said it was to keep improving its defense, win more ACC games than last year.

Added Wood: "We have to keep moving on, and when you get them down 28, you try to get them down 48. We’ve just got to continue to get better; we can't be satisfied."

That is, after enjoying this win. For a night, at least. Finally.

After all, it has been a long time coming.

"I don’t know about its cultural significance, but I just know that our program has lost a lot of games to North Carolina," Gottfried said. "And they’ve been great, give them credit. They are good, and have been good; we’re trying to get good. We’re trying to climb up the mountain, and at some point, you’ve got to turn it a little bit. And this is a start."

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Perhaps it was fitting that No. 18 NC State’s all-red uniforms Saturday made it difficult to read the names on the back of the jerseys. Because its 91-83 victory over North Carolina was a team effort.

In building a lead as large as 28 points, the Wolfpack’s big(ger) guys pulverized the Tar Heels from the inside, their shooters dominated from the outside -- and perhaps most telling, State outscored UNC 39-19 on transition points, beating the Tar Heels at what is usually their own game.

Of course there was a rally -- what else would you expect from this rivalry? -- as UNC cut it to single digits in the final minute.

But the defeat snapped a 13-game losing streak to UNC and marked only the second time the Tar Heels have lost to the Wolfpack since Roy Williams returned to Chapel Hill as head coach before the 2003-04 season.

Turning point(s): Trailing 22-10 early, UNC chipped back with an 8-0 run during a stretch in which the Wolfpack inexplicably settled for jump shots rather than feeding their big men (who had big mismatches on the Tar Heels, what with 6-foot-7 reserve Jackson Simmons in the game and James Michael McAdoo playing with two fouls).

But after a timeout, NC State solved that problem in short order, pushing and pounding to a 20-2 run that began with a wide-open 3-pointer from Rodney Purvis and included a monster jam from C.J. Leslie over Simmons. The Wolfpack sped so hard that they beat UNC down the court again and again and again, as Purvis threw down a dunk and T.J. Warren made two more transition buckets before Williams ended the breakaway -- temporarily -- with a timeout.

State led 45-26 at halftime and by as many as 28 points in the second half.

UNC made a 22-7 run of its own -- cutting it to 70-61 on back-to-back 3-pointers from P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, and two free throws from Marcus Paige.

But a bucket from Leslie inside, followed by a four-point play from Scott Wood, pushed NC State’s cushion back to 15 with about 4½ minutes left. It was enough to survive the Tar Heels’ last-minute push (when a Hairston 3 and McAdoo putback cut the lead to as little as five).

Key player(s): Choose a member of the Pack: Warren finished with 19 points; Howell had 16 points and 14 rebounds; Leslie recorded 17 points and 10 rebounds; Lorenzo Brown had 20 points and 11 assists; and Wood finished with 12 points.

McAdoo posted a double-double for UNC: 13 points, 11 rebounds. Hairston led the Tar Heels with 19.

Noteworthy number: State had outscored UNC 20-0 on transition buckets by halftime.

What’s next: NC State plays at Virginia on Tuesday, while UNC plays at Boston College the same night.

Video: C.J. Leslie's monster slam

January, 26, 2013

NC State's C.J. Leslie throws down a big dunk as the Wolfpack took it to rival North Carolina in the first half in Raleigh.

Weekend Watch: UNC-NC State preview

January, 25, 2013
Outlook: The painfully young Tar Heels started ACC play 0-2, and the world began to fall off its axis in Chapel Hill. NC State started ACC play 3-0, and parade routes were being planned. Fortunes turn quickly in conference play, and they can and will again before this is all done.

The Tar Heels have one of the youngest rosters in the country, ranking 308th in experience. North Carolina has a nontraditional team for baby blue, as it is primarily a perimeter team. Usually, the North Carolina attack starts and ends with big guys who run, get the ball in the post, wear you down and foul you out. The North Carolina primary break and secondary break were feared, and even though you knew they were coming, you couldn’t stop them.

This season, North Carolina’s big men are young and unpolished. Frankly, none of them are completely ready yet. James Michael McAdoo is having a normal progression for an outstanding player, but he is not where we expected him to be, whether those expectations were fair or not. McAdoo is productive but not efficient and has been up and down, as has North Carolina’s team. Carolina’s strength is still transition, but its running game is not as powerful as it was last season (how could it be, with four first-round picks gone?), and the Heels get to the offensive glass for second shots.

On the other bench, NC State has been excellent at times but has had a few slip-ups. This is an elite offensive team, with four players averaging 12 points per game or more. The Wolfpack are dynamic in transition and score off makes, misses, turnovers, free throws, you name it. This team is fast and runs. Rodney Purvis is a speed merchant, and Lorenzo Brown is as fast with the ball as most any point guard in the country. Scott Wood runs to the 3-point line, and Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie run to the rim and drag the defense with them, putting tremendous pressure on opposing big men to run the floor. T.J. Warren is also terrific in transition and really takes off the other way at conversion.

In the half court, NC State runs nine or 10 sets out of the UCLA high-post offense and keeps things very simple. With so many options to score, why complicate things? Mark Gottfried is smart not to.

The key for NC State to get to the next level is to defend and to do it consistently. Against Wake Forest, the Pack didn’t guard and just tried to outscore the Deacons. The most important player is Leslie, who, when he guards people, inspires everyone to defend better.

Carolina’s best: Reggie Bullock. The junior guard has been the Heels’ best and most consistent player. Bullock is averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.6 made 3-point field goals per game. He has shot 46 percent from 3-point range and has been Carolina’s most efficient player. Bullock is the key voice and leader of the team. Over the past two games, Bullock is averaging 20.5 points and is shooting better than 50 percent.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina State
AP Photo/Evan PikeC.J. Leslie has been doing it all for the Wolfpack this season, averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.
State’s best: Leslie. The 6-foot-9 skilled forward is great in isolations on the elbow and the baseline. He is averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the floor. Leslie can explode for a big night or can settle for less. He had only six points against Clemson and played just 18 minutes against Wake Forest due to fouls. But against Duke, Leslie was magnificent, scoring 25 points on just 16 shots and saving a fan from court-storming peril after the game.

Carolina’s X factor: McAdoo. The sophomore is talented and working hard to figure it out, and he will. When he does, this will be one truly outstanding player. McAdoo is averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds -- you must be good when those numbers are criticized. McAdoo needs space to operate, shooting only 45 percent from the field, and does not do as well when crowded and played with physicality. North Carolina needs McAdoo to have a good game to win in a tough environment.

State’s X factor: Brown. The junior point guard is dynamic and tough to stay in front of in the open floor. Brown averages 12.8 points and 6.9 assists per game along with 2.1 steals. Brown will be a difficult matchup for Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland. Strickland would do the best job on him, but he is not fully himself after his knee surgery last year.

Carolina’s toughest: Roy Williams. The Naismith Hall of Famer has had to inject a lot of energy into this young team, and he has stayed patient and coached his tail off. Williams went through this same thing in 2010, and the rewards were pretty darn good. One thing is for sure: Williams will not quit on this group. His dancing in the locker room with the team after UNLV and Florida State may look funny to some, but it’s not. It’s great to see a guy who has done it all enjoying the small steps and victories of those who haven’t been there before. That’s pretty darn cool.

State’s toughest: Howell. Simply put, Howell is a man among boys, and North Carolina doesn’t have anyone who can match up with him. Howell is averaging 12.6 points on 59 percent shooting and 10.9 rebounds a game. Over the past five games, Howell is averaging 14.2 rebounds per game, including 18 against Duke and 16 against Wake Forest. Howell cleans the glass and allows his teammates to leak out and get in transition.

Key stats: Offensive rebounding and transition points. Carolina thrives off second shots, averaging 15.5 offensive rebounds per game that lead to 15.1 points, and NC State needs to hit the glass to finish defensive possessions before taking off to the other end. Both teams like to run and get easy baskets, but to keep NC State out of transition, North Carolina has to run good half-court offense and take good shots. A quick shot or a turnover will be a dunk on the other end.

Who wins: North Carolina is making strides and getting better, but winning on NC State’s home floor, especially after the Wolfpack lost at Wake Forest, may be asking too much of this young group. NC State should win this one, 79-70.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A quick look at Maryland’s 51-50 victory Wednesday over NC State:

Overview: Somewhere, Jim Valvano is stunned.

Alex Len's last-second put-down of Pe'Shon Howard's air ball sealed the win for the Terrapins and was eerily similar to Valvano’s do-you-believe-in-miracles moment.

Only in reverse.

But this was more than just an exciting victory. This was a big one for Maryland, a team that has had a 13-game win streak this season -- yet still little, if any, heft on its résumé to show for it.

This win isn’t enough alone, but it is a step toward getting the Terps back into the NCAA tournament.

As for NC State, it’s not a killer, but the Wolfpack never looked comfortable in this game. A game after beating Duke, NC State knew it would have a target on its back visiting the hungry Terps, but never answered the bell.

Turning point: Let’s go with Len catching Howard’s air ball and putting it down for the game winner with 0.9 seconds left.

Seems like a good one.

Howard was falling out of bounds when he threw the ball up, but Len had position for the drop into the bucket.

Key player: Len only had 10 points, but he kept the Terps in this, stripping Richard Howell and serving up a block on the other end in the final minute to keep Maryland alive for its last-second miracle.

Key stat: 50. That’s how many points NC State had in this game after putting up 41 in the first half of its Saturday upset of Duke. The Wolfpack were plodding and slow, as much a product of Maryland’s defense and style as their own effort. And it made the difference. The Terps weren’t going to win going hoop for hoop with the Wolfpack.

Miscellaneous: A game after scoring 41 in the first half against Duke, NC State could muster just 16 before the break against Maryland and trailed 22-16 at intermission. … A painting of former coach Gary Williams was unveiled at halftime. The painting, part of the NCAA’s celebration of 75 years of March Madness, will be auctioned off beginning tomorrow. The painting of Williams is part of a collection of 75 individual paintings, one for each NCAA-winning coach, from 1939 to 2013. … Dez Wells and C.J. Leslie were high school teammates in Raleigh, N.C. … This was Maryland’s second sellout of the season.

Next game: NC State returns home to face Clemson on Sunday; Maryland travels to meet an increasingly desperate North Carolina on Saturday.
On Monday, we relayed the story of Will Privette, the wheelchair-bound NC State senior who was pushed onto the floor at the start of Wolfpack fans' postgame celebration after Saturday's cathartic win over Duke. It was an incredibly dangerous stunt, when Privette was predictably overrun and knocked from his chair, it could have ended horribly. Instead, with an assist from NC State forward C.J. Leslie, Privette lived to tell the tale -- a tale I can only assume his grandchildren will one day be hearing all about.

Now, NC State is upping the awesome factor. The Wolfpack are already selling a "Roll Pack" T-shirt in their online apparel store (hat tip: CBS), which includes a cheeky stick-figure illustration of a wheelchair being pushed by a fellow fan. "Roll Pack" is the hashtag Privette and his classmates have adopted in the days since he became one of college sports' most famous fans. The T-shirt is just a natural extension.

But don't worry: Privette won't become the latest unpaid undergraduate to be used for profit by an NCAA member institution, at least not totally. According to the sale site, "$2.00 for every shirt sold will go to 'We Connect Now,' a student organization on campus that acts as a support network for NCSU students with disabilities." So the shirt sales will at least partially go to a good cause, and Privette gets to memorialize his self-admittedly dumb but nonetheless awesome decision to put his personal safety at utter risk for the sake of celebrating a win over Duke. Happy endings all around.
At the end of NC State's win over No. 1 Duke Saturday, thousands of delirious Wolfpack fans rushed the court. It was similar to pretty much every court rush ever, save for one thing: At the front of the group was a kid in a wheelchair, being pushed by a fellow student.

It was impossible to miss and profoundly confusing. ESPN's Dick Vitale, who was working the game, was immediately and rightfully concerned. For as fun as they are, court-stormings are a mass of people running and jumping into one another, potentially (though rarely) hazardous to everyone involved. It doesn't seem like a very good idea to put someone in a wheelchair in the middle of that fracas.

In fact, the kid himself shot a first-person YouTube video of him being pushed onto the floor. It starts out awesome, and ends up terrifying:

USA Today's Nicole Auerbach tracked down the man himself. His name is Will Privette, a Zebulon, N.C. native and senior at NC State. He was pushed onto the floor by student body president Andy Walsh, and it wasn't his first time; he rushed the court when the Pack beat Duke in 2010, too, but "that time I waited for the first wave of people to go through so I wouldn't get crushed," he said. (Some have criticized Walsh for pushing Privette on the floor, but Privette has been quick to shoot such criticism down.)

Anyway, things didn't go quite so smoothly this time. As the video shows, Privette was knocked over onto the ground, with little recourse for escaping the mass of people flying onto the floor. Just when things were starting to get legitimately scary, Privette got what he called a life-saving assist from forward NC State forward C.J. Leslie. You can see a photo of that moment, shot by Oliver Sholder, here. From Auerbach's interview:
We got right in the center, and as you can see in the video, I got hit from one side. It was like a wave. It toppled me over. I fell out of my wheelchair. I was on the ground, and I had my phone in my hand -- I was trying to film the event -- and the phone flew out of my hands and my glasses flew off my face. I was on the ground. I was like, "OK, what am I going to do now?"

C.J. Leslie was in the middle (of the crowd) and he saw me. I knew him from being around campus. He pushed everyone back and told everyone, "Get back, get back." Once everyone moved and realized what was going on, he picked me up and I've described it as like how you'd hold a baby. Once I realized I wasn't in trouble any more, I started to scream, like "Wooooo! Let's go!" C.J. held me for a little bit because we lost my wheelchair in the sea of people. He held me for a couple of minutes. I was screaming and yelling.

I patted him on the head and said, "Thank you." Then he put me in my chair, and the PNC Arena staff escorted me off the court to safety. After the game, I waited around for C.J. to say, "Thank you, thank you for helping -- saving my life, really."

It was the dumbest thing I've done in college but it was awesome.

That last sentence is correct in every single way. If you don't have at least one moment of your college career that you could describe the exact same way, you're doing it wrong.

In closing: Will Privette is an American hero. And Leslie's not too far behind.

NC State forward C.J. Leslie, who led all scorers with 25 points, talks about his team's 84-76 upset of No. 1 Duke on Saturday.

Behind Brown, NC State avoids deja vu

December, 19, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina State point guard Lorenzo Brown admits there may have been a flashback or two, with about 5 1/2 minutes left Tuesday night, when Stanford cut the Wolfpack’s once-17-point lead to seven.

“In the back of my mind, I was thinking, ‘I don’t want this to happen again. I don’t want to lose to them two years in a row,’” he said.

So the junior helped make sure they didn’t. Brown scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half at PNC Arena -- including four points during the closeout stretch -- to lead the Wolfpack to its fourth consecutive win (88-79), and perhaps help dull the memories of State’s double-digit West Coast meltdown a year ago.

It was, by far, Brown’s most aggressive game of the year -- a good sign for a 25th-ranked team that finally seems to be putting its talented pieces together after it started the season in the top 10, but slid down the rankings after losses to Oklahoma State and at Michigan.

“I just took it upon myself,” said Brown, who shot 9-for-15, and also had 5 assists, 4 turnovers and a steal. “I know our team needed some quick buckets. They [the Cardinal] were coming down and shooting all types of 3s. So I took it upon myself to make good shots.”

Indeed, State led by as much as 69-52 with 9:19 left, on a jumper from Brown. But the Cardinal (which got 23 points from forward Dwight Powell) countered with a 12-2 run to cut it to 71-64 -- just enough to harken back to last season, when Stanford used a late 16-1 run to overtake the Wolfpack on the West Coast.

This time around, however, NCSU senior big man Richard Howell countered with a layup, followed by a jumper from forward C.J. Leslie and another layup by Brown.

That, along with sharpshooter Scott Wood’s bevy of lane-opening 3-pointers in the first half, was an example of NC State’s veterans coming together to do what they do best, all at the right time.

And the same time.

“They’ve been in games like this,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried of his lineup, which returns four starters from last March’s Sweet 16 team. “Throughout their careers, they’ve been in some wars like this. And we expect them to be good in wars like this.”

And now they have been, twice in the past four games with victories against two power-conference opponents in Connecticut (69-65) and Stanford.

“I’m excited,” Gottfried said. “I think it is another win against a team that is going to win a lot of games this year.”

Plus it’s a confidence boost for Brown, who didn’t even start playing point guard full time until last season. (Not that you’d know it by the way he used his size advantage, length and court vision.)

“He reminds me of a guy who used to play back in my time … Sleepy Floyd,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, whose team’s winning streak was snapped at three. “ … He’s a terrific player. He has great size, he can really shoot the basketball, he can play the 1, and he creates all sorts of problems for you because he can post you up, because he’s a 6-5 point guard. He can shoot overtop of smaller guards. He handles the ball well to get to places on the floor that are difficult.

“He’s a very talented guard, and based on what I’ve seen today, he’s one of the best guards in the country.”

Brown -- who was also 7-for-8 with 16 points against Norfolk State last Saturday -- said his squad is also still capable of being one of the best teams in the country, if it can continue to build off wins like Tuesday and learn from the memories of bad games in the past.

“Once Scott’s hitting 3s like that, it opens it up for everybody else,” Brown said. “Then you’ve got Rodney [Purvis], who’s faster than anybody I’ve seen. You can’t do much about about C.J. and Richard, so we can be ‘dangerous’ -- that’s the right word.”

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A year ago, NC State lost at Stanford in particularly painful fashion, as the Cardinal used a late 16-1 comeback run to prevail.

Tuesday at PNC Arena, No. 25 NC State made sure that didn’t happen again. Using a flurry of 3-pointers from sharpshooter Scott Wood early, some timely buckets from point guard Lorenzo Brown late, and another solid game from senior big man Richard Howell throughout, the Wolfpack won their fourth consecutive game while halting Stanford’s winning streak at three with an 88-79 victory.

Turning point: Leading by as many as 17 points in the second half, the Wolfpack (8-2) found themselves ahead by only seven with under six minutes left -- roughly the same margin, and time remaining before the meltdown a year ago. But with 5:02 left, Howell drove through the lane to give his team a nine-point cushion. Teammate T.J. Warren made a block on the other end, and C.J. Leslie (out with leg cramps down the stretch the last time these two teams met) buried a baseline jumper to give the Pack a 75-64 cushion.

Key players: It was hard to pick just one for the Wolfpack, as Wood scored 15 of his 17 points before halftime, Brown scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half, Howell recorded his fourth straight double-double and Leslie finished with 16 points. … Dwight Powell led the Cardinal (7-4) with 23 points.

Key stats: State had a season-high eight blocks in the first half alone, and recorded 11 for the game.

Up next: NC State plays St. Bonaventure at home on Saturday. Stanford plays at Northwestern on Friday.