College Basketball Nation: Richard Howell

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.

Hmmmmm.

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.

Rapid Reaction: UNC 76, NC State 65

February, 23, 2013
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Small lineup? Doesn’t mean you can’t play big. North Carolina withstood a couple of rally attempts by taller NC State to avenge last month’s loss to its in-state rival, avoid the Wolfpack’s attempt at a regular-season sweep for the first time since 2002-03 and push its record to 3-1 since it went to a four-guard starting lineup.

A quick look at the Tar Heels’ 76-65 victory at the Smith Center.

Turning point: The Tar Heels -- who led by as many as 10 points early in the second half -- trailed 55-52 with eight minutes left. They countered with an 18-2 run, which included eight points from Reggie Bullock and a 3-pointer, three-point play and two free throws from freshman point guard Marcus Paige, to take a 70-57 lead with under four minutes to go.

Player(s) of the game: Bullock finished with 22 points and tied his career high with 13 rebounds. Paige, who looked lost in UNC’s defeat at State last month, had 14 points and eight assists.

Scott Wood led the Wolfpack with 19 points, and Richard Howell finished with 17 rebounds.

Number(s) to know: UNC scored 24 points off turnovers. NC State had 16. ... The Wolfpack outrebounded the Tar Heels 39-32.

Next up: NC State faces Boston College on Wednesday; UNC plays at Clemson on Thursday.


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.”

Numbers to Know: January recap

February, 1, 2013
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Player of the Month - Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
(November: Mason Plumlee; December: Doug McDermott)

Olynyk’s rise from sub to redshirt to star is arguably the most surprising story of the season. January marked the peak of his emergence. Olynyk averaged 21.1 PPG and 7.5 RPG in just 27 minutes per game. His 31.4 points per 40 minutes ranked third in the nation during January. His month included back-to-back 30-point efforts, as well as a game in which he was perfect from the foul line and from the field.

Defensive Player of the Month – Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
(November: Jeff Withey; December: Nerlens Noel)

Defense alone is putting Noel into the conversation to be the nation’s top freshman. He averaged 6.4 blocks per game in January. No one else even averaged four. It’s the highest block average in January since Fairfield’s Deng Gai averaged 6.9 in 2005. Of course, he wasn’t doing it in the SEC like Noel, who set Kentucky’s single-game record with 12. Look at it this way: Noel had three times as many blocks (51) as missed shots (17) during the month.


Freshman of the Month – Jahii Carson, Arizona State

(November: Marcus Smart; December: Anthony Bennett)

Arizona State was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12, but now rests squarely on the tournament bubble. Carson’s the main reason, and his January shows why. He averaged 17.5 PPG (third among D-I freshmen) and 4.6 APG (tied for ninth among freshmen) during the month. On the season, he’s on pace to be the first major conference freshman since Shaheen Halloway in 1996-97 to average 17 PPG and 5 APG.

Scorer of the Month – Erick Green, Virginia Tech
(November: C.J. McCollum; December: Doug McDermott)

Green averaged 27.4 PPG in January, over two points more than any other player. It’s the highest January scoring average by an ACC player since J.J. Redick averaged 31.0 PPG in 2006.

Virginia Tech went 2-5 in the month, in part because no other scorer emerged. Green accounted for over 40 percent of the Hokies’ points.

Free Throw Shooter of the Month – Lamont Jones, Iona
(November: Jordan Adams; December: Tyler Haws)

Jones hit more free throws than anyone else, and almost shot 90 percent from the line. He went 67-for-75 (89.3 percent) during the month, as he continues to make opponents pay for fouling him. That went a long way toward his 22.1 PPG during the month, which ranked seventh in the nation.

3-Point Shooter of the Month – Ian Clark, Belmont
(November: Ryan Sypkens; December: Jordan Price)

Clark hit 60 percent of his 3s during January, finishing the month 30-for-50. That led to a 78.0 effective field goal percentage, which led the nation. That’s the best shooting January since Boise State’s Tyler Tiedeman had a 79.9 eFG pct in 2008.

Rebounder of the Month – Richard Howell, NC State
(November: Jamelle Hagins; December: Andre Roberson)

Howell led the nation with 13.4 RPG during January. Of course, that includes his 18-rebound effort in the Wolfpack’s upset of No. 1 Duke. Howell had at least 11 rebounds in every game during the month and he has two of the top three rebounding games in the ACC this season.


Distributor of the Month – D.J. Cooper, Ohio

(November: Michael Carter-Williams; December: Trey Burke)

Sacred Heart’s Phil Gaetano led the nation in assists in January (9.6 APG), but no one had more assists per 40 minutes than Cooper (11.7). He either scored or assisted on 48 percent of the Bobcats’ field goals during the month. Ohio went 7-0 in January, and almost no one is as important to his own team.

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."


North Carolina senior Dexter Strickland raised some eyebrows (and more than a few NC State fans’ hackles) last October when, asked about the Wolfpack being picked by both the coaches and media to win the league, he responded with some early bulletin board material.
"They talk those guys up every single year and we beat them every single year," Strickland told Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com. "They are the least of our worries. Beat us one year and then they can talk smack. Until then, you can't put them in the mix."

Back then, it seemed like a rather audacious thing to say, considering the Wolfpack were returning four of five starters while the Tar Heels had lost four-fifths of their starting group. And as little as two weeks ago, the statements seemed even more dubious, as the Wolfpack faithful stormed the court after toppling top-ranked Duke to win their 10th straight game while the struggling Tar Heels took the floor in Tallahassee, desperate not to fall to 0-3 in the ACC.

But a funny thing has happened over the past 15 days.

UNC, long fallen out of the top 25, has won three in a row.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsUNC's Dexter Strickland, left, P.J. Hairston and coach Roy Williams are upbeat heading into Saturday's clash with rival NC State.
No. 18 NC State has lost two of three -- including a mid-week shocker at Wake Forest.

All of a sudden, Strickland’s words seem a bit prophetic: State (15-4, 4-2 ACC) does need to beat rival UNC to stay in the league’s top early mix -- something it hasn’t managed in 13 tries, dating back to 2007. A win by the Tar Heels (13-5, 3-2), meanwhile, would not only keep it near the top of the conference cluster, but bolster the confidence and learning curve of a team still trying to figure out and reach its potential.

“I probably wish he hadn’t done it,” Williams said about Strickland’s preseason comments, “but do you think it’s going to make North Carolina-North Carolina State any bigger [of a] game? I think it has zero effect on the game. … I think it just gives people something to talk about.”

And what's a rivalry without a little talk?

According to ESPN Stats & Information, this will mark only the sixth time since the AP poll began in 1948-49 that an unranked North Carolina team will play a ranked NC State squad.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas offered up his preview of the game earlier Friday. But here are a few more things to watch during Saturday's 7 p.m. ET tipoff at PNC Arena:

THE POINT GUARDS

Asked earlier this month which ballhandler he was looking most forward to playing against, UNC freshman Marcus Paige was quick to mention NC State’s Lorenzo Brown, pointing to the 6-foot-5 junior as the best point guard in the league.

And Brown -- who likely will also be guarded by Strickland, too -- has been impressive, leading the league in assists (6.9 per game), while also averaging 12.8 points.

“Lorenzo Brown’s playing about as well as any point guard around,’’ Williams said, adding that Brown is shooting the ball better, making better decisions, and playing better defense than even last season, when he was pretty darn good.

Paige (6.7 ppg, 4.4 apg), meanwhile, has grown more and more comfortable in his starting role, but he hasn’t yet faced an atmosphere quite like the one coming at PNC Arena. He said he was looking forward to it.

“Marcus is a great player, he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school so he’s played against some big-time talent. I know he’s ready to play in a game like this,’’ UNC junior wing Reggie Bullock said.

STATE’S FIREPOWER

Williams has often said that the toughest teams to prepare for are the ones with a balanced offense. And NC State, which boasts the third best shooting percentage in the nation and five players averaging double figures, certainly has that.

Along with Brown, “Richard Howell is a man on the backboards,’’ Williams said. “C.J. [Leslie] just dominates some games, [Scott] Wood can shoot the dickens out of it, Rodney Purvis gives another element of speed on the break and then T.J. Warren off the bench is shooting over 62 percent.

“It’s really something that they have six guys that are effective offensively.”

And really quite a challenge to guard.

“If we want to win this game, we’ve got to play defense for 40 minutes,’’ said Bullock, adding that the better defensive team will probably come out on top.

BULLOCK

A North Carolina native who grew up around (and has now played multiple games in) the rivalry, Bullock knows what to expect: hungry fans, a raucous atmosphere, a hard-nosed game.

His goal as a team leader: to help prepare the younger guys for what’s to come, and push everyone to play consistently Saturday.

“NC State, they’re a great team, they’ve got great players,’’ Bullock said. “And I know they’re going to come out tomorrow ready to play even hungrier than they played in the Wake Forest game. We’ve just got to be ready.”

Bullock’s defense was key last season to helping hold Wood to 6-for-23 shooting over three games. But Bullock's offense will also be key this time around; he’s averaging 17.2 ppg in ACC play.

Weekend Watch: UNC-NC State preview

January, 25, 2013
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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.

Numbers to Know: Weekend Recap

January, 14, 2013
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Player of the Weekend - Elston Turner, Texas A&M
Scoring a career-high 40 points, Turner carried the Aggies to an 83-71 win at Kentucky. That’s the most points by a Texas A&M player since Don Marbury’s 41 points against Baylor more than 28 years ago. It’s also the fifth most by an Aggie in a road game. But the venue makes this performance particularly unique. According to Kentucky, Turner is the first opposing player to score 40 points in Rupp Arena since LSU's Chris Jackson in 1990.

Stat Sheet Stuffer - Richard Howell, NC State
Howell had 16 points and 18 rebounds, as NC State knocked off No. 1 Duke, 84-76. Over the last 15 seasons, he’s the fourth player with those numbers in a win over the AP No. 1, joining UNLV’s Mike Moser, Pitt’s DeJuan Blair and UNC’s Antawn Jamison. In the second half, Howell alone outrebounded the Blue Devils 14-13.

Freshman of the Weekend - Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Bennett scored 22 points and added a career-high 16 rebounds as UNLV held off Air Force, 76-71, in overtime. He’s just the fourth freshman to reach those totals in a game this season, joining Lipscomb’s Stephen Hurt, Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and High Point’s John Brown. The Rebels improved to 19-1 all-time at home against Air Force.

Bench Player of the Weekend – Kenyon McNeail, Louisiana Tech
McNeail scored a career-high 34 points off the bench in Louisiana Tech’s 73-71 win at UTSA. That’s tied for the second-most points off the bench this season. No WAC player since at least 1996-97 has scored that many as a reserve. McNeail tied Johnny Miller’s 16-year-old school record with nine 3-pointers made.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend – Vanderbilt Commodores
Lowlighted by just 11 points in the first half, Vanderbilt scored just 33 points in a 23-point loss to Arkansas. It’s the second time this season that Vanderbilt has scored just 33, having also done so against Marist in November. Prior to that, Vanderbilt’s offense hadn’t produced 33 or fewer points in a game since 1982. The Commodores’ 26 turnovers were their most in almost 11 years.

Behind Brown, NC State avoids deja vu

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
1:39
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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.

Numbers To Know: Weekend Recap

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
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Player of the Weekend - Roosevelt Jones, Butler
Alex Barlow hit the heroic game-winner as Butler knocked off No. 1 Indiana 88-86 in overtime. However, Jones did a little bit of everything before fouling out in regulation.

The sophomore posted a season-high 16 points to with 12 rebounds and a career-high seven assists. The last player to reach all of those levels in a win over the nation’s top-ranked team was Andre Miller in the 1998 Final Four against North Carolina.

Scorer of the Weekend - Doug McDermott, Creighton
McDermott scored a season-high 34 points as Creighton picked up a 74-64 road win over California. That’s back-to-back 30-point efforts for McDermott. He’s the first Bluejay to do that since Bob Harstad in 1990.

After a slow start to the season, McDermott has scored 20 or more in seven straight games, and is third in the nation in scoring (23.7 ppg).

Stat Sheet Stuffer - Richard Howell, NC State
NC State made relatively easy work of Norfolk State on Saturday, as Howell finished with a line to remember. The senior had 12 points, 19 rebounds, five blocks and five assists in the 84-62 win.

No major-conference player has hit all four of those thresholds in a game since Georgetown’s Michael Sweetney in 2003.

Freshman of the Weekend – Mike Gesell, Iowa
Gesell had a breakout performance in Saturday’s win over Northern Iowa, scoring a career-high 23 points. He combined with Roy Devyn Marble (30 points) to score 66 percent of the Hawkeyes’ points.

With three freshmen in the starting lineup, Iowa has defeated in-state rivals Iowa State and Northern Iowa in back-to-back contests.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend – UC-Riverside
The Highlanders shot just 19 percent from the field in a 70-26 loss to USC. No starter connected on more than one field goal, and no player scored more than six points. It was the fewest points by a Division I school in over four years, and the fewest allowed by the Trojans since 1946.

This is the second time this season that UC-Riverside has been held to 30 points or fewer.

Stalwart Howell keys NC State bounce back

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
1:57
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NEW YORK -- Richard Howell was dazed after C.J. Leslie inadvertently popped him with a flailing arm off a first-half rebound.

The senior forward came out of the game at the dead ball, staggered back to the bench, sat down and was given a full workup by the North Carolina State athletic training staff.

They tested his balance, eyesight and strength to see if he had suffered a concussion.

He didn’t. Howell said he was scared for a moment, since he had suffered a concussion against Maryland as a sophomore.

The tingling and the numbing in his upper body had him nervous. But it started to subside and all he had was a stinger in his shoulder. He told Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried that he could play in the second half.

[+] EnlargeNC State's Richard Howell
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsRichard Howell had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Connecticut, mainly in the second half.
Good decision.

If Howell continues to play the way he did in the second half against Connecticut on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic, the Wolfpack have a shot to live up to their expectations.

Howell had a double-double -- in the second half -- with 11 of his 13 points and all of his 10 boards coming in the final 20 minutes of NC State’s much-needed 69-65 victory over the Huskies at Madison Square Garden.

“He’s our blue-collar guy, our most consistent guy except for when he gets in foul trouble," said NC State assistant coach Bobby Lutz. “He gives us great energy. He’s undersized, but he’s relentless and has great enthusiasm and productivity."

Guard Lorenzo Brown, wing Leslie and sharpshooter Scott Wood were NC State’s headline names heading into the season, along with freshman Rodney Purvis. Howell tended to be overlooked.

But if the Wolfpack are to be ACC champs as predicted, Howell must be the anchor of this team. NC State hadn’t played well yet, losing badly to Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico, nearly dropping a game to UNC-Asheville and then losing respectably at Michigan last week.

The Huskies didn’t defend the Wolfpack well but still knocked NC State back a number of times. That is, until Howell became a beast on the boards.

“He’s a monster," said Wood. “What can I say? He’s the best rebounder out there. He’s a great player for us. He works so hard in practice, and if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, we’re going to be a dangerous team."

If Howell doesn’t play in the second half, the Huskies might have won this game, with Enosch Wolf playing well enough inside to cause NC State fits. Had NC State lost this game, there would have been ample second-guessing about the true potential of this squad.

“Whatever coach wants me to do to be a difference-maker, I’ll do it," said Howell. “This was huge for us. It’s definitely a step closer to what we want to be. We lost to Oklahoma State, Michigan and didn’t beat UNC-Asheville by what we should have. We learned from it and progressed."

Duke is the class of the ACC. North Carolina is young, inexperienced and a bit of an unknown right now. NC State is in line with Miami, Maryland and suddenly surging Virginia Tech in a wide-open ACC race come January.

NC State still has oodles of talent but will succeed only if Howell is a constant presence in the paint. The flash plays by Leslie and Purvis, the 3-pointers by Wood or the drives by Brown (although he still turns the ball over too much) are all necessary. But none of it is as important as Howell patrolling the paint.

Reaching the Sweet 16 last season was a surprise. But if the Wolfpack are going to replicate that run, they must defend the drive, shore up on 3s and control the backboard more effectively. Gottfried said before the game that he was still figuring this club out as the veterans adapt to the heralded newcomers. Howell showed his teammates his toughness Tuesday by playing through pain and discomfort. NC State is a work in progress, which puts even more emphasis on such a valued talent.

Rapid Reaction: NC State 69, UConn 65

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
12:05
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NEW YORK -- Quick thoughts from North Carolina State's 69-65 victory over Connecticut in Tuesday's second game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden:

What it means: NC State picked up its best win of the season, and perhaps quieted its critics some, in sending UConn to its second loss.

The Wolfpack (5-2), ranked No. 6 to start the season and picked to win the ACC, had lost two of their previous three -- to Oklahoma State (by 20) in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and at No. 3 Michigan (by seven).

UConn (6-2) is playing better than expected and battled to the very end in this game. The Huskies, despite not being eligible for the postseason, are going to give a lot of teams trouble.

The turning point: UConn came out hot, thanks to Shabazz Napier, who scored the team’s first 10 points. The Huskies led by 11, 20-9, with eight minutes and change gone by. But NC State responded with an 8-0 run from that point. The Wolfpack led 32-31 at halftime, thanks to Lorenzo Brown’s floater at the first-half buzzer.

The game remained tight in the second half. With the score tied at 53 and less than six minutes left, NC State went on a 6-0 spurt, capped by a C.J. Leslie slam dunk on the break. UConn stayed within striking distance -- Ryan Boatright’s 3-pointer with just less than two minutes remaining cut it to 61-58. But the Huskies couldn’t get stops when they needed them down the stretch.

Player of the game: UConn had no answer for NC State’s twin towers, Leslie and Richard Howell.

Howell scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half and had 10 rebounds -- seven of them on the offensive glass. Leslie had 16 points and 13 boards. Those two are a handful.

Napier finished with a game-high 19 for UConn but scored only four points in the second half. Boatright added 18 points.

Key stat: NC State had 11 offensive rebounds in the second half and scored 16 second-chance points with them. That was the difference in the game.

What’s next: NC State will host Cleveland State on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET -- a game that will be played at the old Reynolds Coliseum, as opposed to PNC Arena. UConn hosts Harvard on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion.

North Carolina State is not a top-10 team right now. And Oklahoma State, the team that dismantled the Wolfpack Sunday, can compete for the Big 12 title if it plays the way it did against NCSU (no guarantee) throughout the season. Those are the two conclusions I reached after watching this matchup in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship.

Yes, the teams played indoors, but mentally, NC State was on a Puerto Rican beach sipping mango smoothies and building sand castles.

The Wolfpack was not in that gym. Mark Gottfried’s squad looked listless. The knock against C.J. Leslie throughout his career? He’s great when he wants to be, average if he’s not focused. And Leslie didn’t look focused. T.J. Warren (15 points) was the only NC State player who seemed to recognize the moment. But overall, the Pack didn’t bring it.

Now, I’m not going to call Oklahoma State the best team in the Big 12 (it will certainly crack the Top 25 Monday), but I think the Cowboys proved that they belong in the Big 12 title conversation after this performance. They stifled a North Carolina State team that was bigger, stronger, deeper and more experienced. Why? Well, Google "Marcus Smart."

Go with me on this one. At some point in the Jackson 5’s path to stardom, the group was recognized as Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. The group was good but the star was the key to the show. Everyone knew it. And that’s the situation Oklahoma State is in right now. If Smart is on his game, as he was Sunday night, the Cowboys can contend with any team in the country. But the freshman won’t play like that every night. He’ll need consistent help throughout the season. The ceiling, however, is very high for this Pokes squad with Smart on the roster. Very high.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smart
AP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoNC State had no answer for Marcus Smart as the freshman scored 20 points with seven rebounds and seven assists in the Cowboys' win.
Overview: Oklahoma State raised its stock in Puerto Rico. The Cowboys improved each game, an effort that concluded with Sunday’s 76-56 upset over No. 6 North Carolina State in the championship game. Smart (20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals, four blocks and five turnovers) was brilliant. Le'Bryan Nash (13-for-13 from the free throw line) added 23 points and eight rebounds for an OSU squad that established an early double-digit lead against NC State and preserved it in the second half. Lethargic defense, foul trouble and limited contributions from its stars doomed the Wolfpack. Gottfried’s program wasn’t just outplayed. It was embarrassed.

Turning point: This game turned the day that Smart signed with Oklahoma State. The dynamic point guard not only changed this game, he changed the entire outlook of a program that won only 15 games in 2011-12. The Cowboys were down 7-5 in the first half when Smart connected on back-to-back 3-pointers and a jump shot to put Oklahoma State ahead by four points. He was unstoppable the rest of the first half (18 points before halftime). Smart was 7-for-11 from the field in the first, while the rest of the squad was 6-for-17 on its way to a 38-28 halftime advantage. The Cowboys took North Carolina State’s heart in the first half. Early in the second half, the Pack didn’t look like a squad that had much interest in competing.

Why Oklahoma State won: NC State didn’t have any answers for Smart. He was the difference-maker in the first half. He was aggressive and dominant. Smart attacked the basket and finished with ease. Oklahoma State’s relentlessness led to 24 free throws. The Cowboys made 20 of them. But their offense was only one component in this upset. NC State had more depth and brawn inside. But the Cowboys challenged the Pack at the rim. They took away the easy buckets against a team that struggled inside and outside.

Why NC State lost: These guys lost because they couldn’t/didn’t adjust defensively as Smart began to heat up in the first half. Gottfried employed a zone with some success in the second half, but it was too little, too late. Smart was the main guy who North Carolina State had to limit and it couldn’t stop him. But the Wolfpack also lost because its best players were ineffective. Leslie scored two points and fouled out with 17 minutes to play. Lorenzo Brown was 2-for-9 and finished with six points. That’s eight combined points for NC State’s top players. Richard Howell fouled out with six points. The Pack just didn’t have it on either end of the floor Sunday.

Star of the game: Smart did whatever he wanted to do against a veteran Wolfpack squad. Brown couldn’t handle him. A zone couldn’t stop him. If there were any questions beforehand, there shouldn’t be any now. The preseason hype was obviously legit. I know it’s early, but that was arguably the best first half of the 2012-13 season.

What it means for North Carolina State: Gottfried has to figure out what happened cerebrally more than anything. North Carolina State is definitely one of the most talented teams in the country, on paper. The Wolfpack’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2012 proved that it’s capable of competing with the best, but Sunday’s performance echoed a dangerous trend for a team that lacked energy in too many games a year ago. That’s what the Wolfpack has to address.

What it means for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are a team that’s fully capable of playing with the best teams as long as Smart is on the floor. But teams will stack defenses against him and force other players to make plays. Nash did that in the second half Sunday, but Smart will need help throughout the season. If they continue to defend (NCSU shot 35.5 percent from the field), however, the Pokes may evolve into a team that’s not only good enough to get into the NCAA tournament but one that can make a run.

More observations: I have to co-sign what my colleague, Eamonn Brennan, wrote on Twitter: I love Warren’s game. Position? Scorer. He’s crucial for the Wolfpack. … Oklahoma State preserved its lead in the second half but I think the Cowboys would have surrendered it against more tenacious opponents. The Cowboys were greedy and took bad shots. That strategy could hurt them if they’re in a similar situation in the future. … I don’t think Smart is making Nash a better player as much as he’s allowing Nash to play to his strengths. The bottom line is that the duo is one of the best in the country. … Leslie drew a technical foul after picking up his fourth personal foul. That’s what sent him to the bench for good with just more than 17 minutes to play. He’s an important leader for the program. But he didn’t act like one in that moment. Who knows what might have happened with him on the floor in the second half?

What’s next: NC State will face UNC-Asheville on Friday, four days before its ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup at Michigan Nov. 27. Oklahoma State will play Portland State on Sunday and will take on Virginia Tech Dec. 1.

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