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.”
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.