NC State ready for rugged UVa next - WNCN: News, Weather

NC State ready for rugged UVa next

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N.C. State knocked one team from Virginia out of the ACC Tournament Thursday and now takes on another as it looks to make a four-day run at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Wolfpack trounced Virginia Tech 80-63 Thursday afternoon in a game it led by only six at the half. But another manly effort by Richard Howell, who had 22 points, and 15 points and seven rebounds from C.J. Leslie fueled State into the ACC quarterfinals.

Tudor: Leslie's play is good sign for N.C. State

State showed up in red adidas T-shirts reading, "Rise to the Occasion," a motto adidas is sharing with some of its key schools. While coach Mark Gottfried said he hadn't even seen the shirts until Thursday, the Wolfpack did just that against Tech as the bright red sections of the Greensboro Coliseum roared in approval with each Wolfpack basket.

The road to Sunday now gets tougher. Waiting on Friday at 2:30 p.m. is a confident Virginia that plays gritty, relentless defense under coach Tony Bennett. The Cavaliers beat State 58-55 in Charlottesville on Jan. 29, the only time the two teams played.

But N.C. State coaches and players insisted Thursday that the Wolfpack is much improved since that day.

Leslie, much maligned by many State fans for his up-and-down play, led the Wolfpack with 20 points and 14 rebounds in Charlottesville.  Asked about that effort, Leslie said, "I don't remember too much. I was sick. We didn't play great defense."

Coach Mark Gottfried said Leslie didn't practice the day before the game at UVa and didn't attend the shoot-around.

"He was under the weather," Gottfried said. "And Lorenzo [Brown] twisted his ankle at about the 9 minute mark.

"That was a tough day for us."

Brown played only 10 minutes in the game and missed State's next two games, against Miami and Duke.

On Thursday, State was back at full throttle, and had the look of a team picked to win the ACC regular season before slumping to fifth. Brown had another brilliant game, holding Hokies star Erick Green, the nation's leading scorer, to 5 of 19 from the field and 15 points. Brown also had 12 assists, including some brilliant feeds that led to dunks and had Wolfpack fans roaring in approval.

State got yet another powerful effort from Howell, who muscled to the basket to make 11 of his 13 shots and snatched 12 rebounds.

But a big key for State, and perhaps an important theme for this tournament, is the emergence of freshman T.J. Warren. Warren played a burly, confident game on Thursday, tossing in long shots and hustling on defense.

The Wolfpack is not a deep team – only Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis had a few minutes off the bench Thursday. Warren himself had been in and out of the starting lineup much of the season but has settled into a key role now.

Part of his turnaround dates back to that loss at Virginia. His third start of the season at UVa, and even now he can recall off the top of his head that he went 1 for 7 from the field.

"At Virginia, it was my first experience with an away game, an ACC road game," Warren said in the Wolfpack locker room. "I was a little nervous. I wasn't at my best."

He started one more game after that, against Miami, before Gottfried pulled him  out of the starting lineup for four straight games. He returned to the starting lineup against Florida State Feb. 19, erupted for 31 points, and has remained a starter ever since.

N.C. State knows it will get a full effort from Howell every game, and the same from Brown. Leslie remains an enigma, but with the emergence of Warren, State has added weapons – perhaps enough to win the ACC for the first time since 1987.

"We came to Greensboro," Gottfried said, "to win a championship."


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