College Basketball Nation: Kyle Washington

Wolfpack more than one-man band

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
12:58
AM ET

DAYTON, Ohio -- The frontman was having trouble finding his voice.

Turns out NC State’s backup singers are more than capable of making a little noise until he’s ready.

T.J. Warren eventually took over the show and delivered exactly what the Wolfpack have come to expect from their leading scorer. But until the sophomore forward was ready for the spotlight, it was a supporting cast that’s often overlooked that proved NC State was worthy of its NCAA tournament bid after cruising past Xavier 74-59 on Tuesday night at UD Arena.

“T.J. is a terrific player,” Wolfpack guard Tyler Lewis said. “We know sometimes it’s not going to be his best game, and we know that everybody can step up and make plays.”

[+] EnlargeRalston Turner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsRalston Turner had his jump shot working Tuesday, as his 17 points supplemented the play of star forward T.J. Warren in NC State's victory over Xavier.
While Warren was battling early foul trouble and taking more than eight minutes to score his first point, just about everybody else NC State tried picked up the slack to weather the storm, an effort that makes the Wolfpack a dangerous team going forward.

Kyle Washington dropped in a pair of buckets then threw down a dunk to score all six of his points before the first media timeout. Lewis drilled a 3-pointer, and Ralston Turner added one of his own while showing off the incredible elevation he gets on his jump shots.

That was enough to give the Wolfpack a lead without a single point from the ACC Player of the Year, even against a feisty, physical group of Musketeers who also had plenty of support in the stands after making the short drive up Interstate 75 from Cincinnati.

So by the time Warren finally got going, as he almost invariably does, it might as well have already been over for Xavier. Of course, it wasn’t official until he threw down a vicious right-handed dunk in the closing minutes to cap his 25-point outing, but the signs were certainly there.

“Eventually in a 40-minute game, he’s going to find a way,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I’ve not seen very many times [when he doesn’t]. And when those other guys step up and score, we’ve played really well and we had that tonight. A lot of different guys made some key baskets for us.

“I think when we get other guys stepping up to score, everybody’s chipping in a little bit, we’re much better. That’s kind of been the case with our team.”

The tricky part has been finding that kind of balanced scoring with consistency, though NC State has shown signs down the stretch that it’s capable of being more than a one-man band.

Turner averaged more than 12 points per game in the conference tournament run that likely earned the Wolfpack their tournament bid, and his 17 against Xavier were invaluable.

Jordan Vandenberg went nearly two months without scoring more than four points in a game before putting up 10 in the upset win over Syracuse, and he followed that up with nine to knock out the Musketeers.

Lewis finished with seven points to go with eight assists and a steady hand in the backcourt throughout the game. Beejay Anya scored only two points, but they came on a thunderous putback dunk and complemented his three blocked shots on the other end.

By the time that all-around, top-to-bottom effort was over and a ticket was punched to take on fifth-seeded St. Louis on Thursday in Orlando, all nine players Gottfried put on the floor had scored.

Warren still poured in more points than anybody else on the roster and was the last one touching the ball as he dribbled out the clock to seal the victory. But he might not be moving on without the rest of the Wolfpack.

“I think the one thing that’s really nice to see is our young players are really learning how to play at this level, learning how to execute,” Gottfried said. “That’s what you want as a coach. You want your team to keep getting better, and I think we are getting better still.

“So, for us, it’s just about continuing on. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing.”

For Warren and the Wolfpack, the show will go on.
T.J. WarrenGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesT.J. Warren enters the 2013-14 season as the player under the most pressure for NC State.
An unprecedented buzz greeted NC State as it prepared for the 2012-13 campaign. Following a Sweet 16 run the previous season, the Wolfpack returned the most critical pieces of that rally.

C.J. Leslie decided to take his talents back to NC State. Lorenzo Brown looked the part of an All-American point guard. Richard Howell would anchor the paint. And McDonald’s All-American Rodney Purvis would help, too.

That was the mindset of voters who pegged NC State as the favorite to win the ACC last season.

That didn’t happen.

The Wolfpack finished 11-7 in conference play, good for fourth place. Mark Gottfried’s squad lost to Temple in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

And then, things really fell apart.

Leslie turned pro. Purvis transferred to Connecticut.

In all, Gottfried lost five of his top six scorers.

But the silver lining within the tumult was the return of 6-foot-8 forward T.J. Warren. The former McDonald’s All-American toyed with the idea of playing in the NBA but ultimately decided to return.

He’s the only returning player who averaged double figures in scoring last year.

Last season, Warren was just a young reserve who boosted the talent pool of a team that appeared to have it all.

He’ll enter 2013-14 as the leader of a youthful program facing a sharp turn in projections compared to a year ago.

Warren, a member of the ACC’s all-freshman team (media and coaches), could be the most experienced player in a starting lineup that will be forced to rely on the nation’s 14th-ranked incoming class per RecruitingNation.

Anthony Barber, BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washington are all top-100 kids who will probably start for NC State next season. They’ll look to Warren, a second-year man, for guidance.

It’s a dramatic and unexpected switch for the sophomore. But he’s equipped for it. On the court.

Warren showcased his abilities in multiple matchups last season. He had 31 points and 13 rebounds in a Feb. 19 win against Florida State. He registered 12 points or more in nine of the team’s final 11 matchups.

He shot 52 percent from the 3-point line and 62 percent from the field.

Warren won’t have to carry this program alone.

Veteran guard and LSU transfer Ralston Turner (12.3 PPG in 2010-11) will certainly help.

But this is Warren’s team. The Wolfpack will go as far he takes it.

He’s a durable inside-outside threat that any program would covet. He and his young teammates, however, will enter a gauntlet soon.

The ACC could be the toughest league in America next season. Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse will elevate the conference’s profile. But their arrivals also will make life for rebuilding programs such as NC State more challenging.

The grind of ACC play will be a true test for Gottfried’s young crew. And NC State must endure this stretch without much experience.

That’s why Warren’s leadership is just as significant as his production.

An NCAA tournament bid would be considered a surprising success based on the squad’s inexperience.

Warren has to be the anchor. Through everything.

No player in the ACC is facing more pressure right now.

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