RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jordan Vandenberg finally got the chance to play a significant role for North Carolina State. His presence in the middle certainly helped, from freeing T.J. Warren to play his more natural position to helping the Wolfpack better protect the rim.
Coach Mark Gottfried is hoping the 7-foot-1 fifth-year senior is going to make it a habit, too.
Warren had a season-high 30 points to help N.C. State beat Florida Gulf Coast 82-62 on Tuesday night, while Vandenberg had 10 rebounds in his first action following a preseason ankle injury.
"You can try to lead as much as you want," Vandenberg said. "But if you don't demonstrate on the floor what you can do, they ain't going to listen to you. I think this game at least shows them, `Hey, I can play basketball."
Vandenberg finished with seven points, two blocks and two assists despite battling foul trouble for the Wolfpack (3-2), but his presence certainly made things easier in a blowout win against last year's NCAA tournament darling Eagles (4-2).
With Vandenberg starting at center, Warren played more at small forward and Gottfried didn't have to rely on playing unproven freshmen side by side inside.
"You could tell there was a big difference with him defensively and offensively," Warren said. "(Having) him to alter shots from guard penetration, it was a big deal for us. And I'm glad he's back."
Vandenberg, who has slimmed down 40 pounds in the offseason, suffered a Grade 3 sprain of his left ankle during an exhibition win against UNC Pembroke on Oct. 30 and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. His debut came on the early side of that prognosis, and his performance showed he's determined to contribute more after averaging just 1.2 points and 7.9 minutes for his career.
After a strong first half with eight rebounds, Vandenberg turned in the highlight of his career, catching a transition pass from freshman Anthony "Cat" Barber in the air then twisting around to throw down a one-handed slam that gave the Wolfpack a 50-30 lead with 16:35 left.
"He did a great job of getting his body in the best place it can be for him," Gottfried said. "So that agility, he's somewhat nimble now for a big player. He can move. It helps him a lot. Hopefully we can get some more games like he played tonight because I thought he was the difference in the game early on."
Barber added 12 points in his first college start for the Wolfpack, who shot 55 percent, dominated the boards and got plenty of easy baskets in the paint to coast to an easy home win.
Chase Fieler scored 18 to lead the Eagles (4-2), who shot 35 percent and struggled to slow N.C. State's humming-along offense all night. Florida Gulf Coast -- which grabbed national attention with its "Dunk City" run to the NCAA round of 16 last season -- trailed by 15 at halftime and by as many as 27 points from there.
"They've got talent. I think they've got some depth," first-year Eagles coach Joe Dooley said. "(Vandenberg) made a big difference today because he clogs the hole and also buys them more minutes. They just keep running bodies at you, which we don't have many of right now. I think as the season goes along, they'll be a team that continually gets better."
N.C. State was coming off last week's overtime home loss to North Carolina Central, a reminder that the reconfigured Wolfpack would need time to develop an overhauled roster.
Gottfried juggled his starting lineup for this one, moving Barber in at point guard instead of sophomore Tyler Lewis while starting Vandenberg in his season debut.
After Vandenberg's big dunk, N.C. State treated its fans to a crowd-pleasing rout, with freshman BeeJay Anya entering the game for the first time midway through the half then throwing down three slams in a 2-minute span that pushed the lead to 68-41 with about 9 minutes left.
Warren went 13-for-18 from the field in 29 minutes, while Barber had six assists. N.C. State finished with a 43-25 rebounding advantage, scored 17 second-chance points and managed 54 points in the paint -- several coming on dunks for an offense that had no problem getting out in transition.
Bernard Thompson added 14 points for Florida Gulf Coast, which shot just 8-for-28 (29 percent) in the opening half to trail 39-24 at halftime.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap