North Carolina State guard Anthony "Cat" Barber has supreme confidence in his basketball ability. But, like any freshman, there are nights where his jump shot is off and he's getting used to the college game.
But there are games like Saturday's 76-66 victory over Long Beach State at PNC Arena where Wolfpack fans get a glimpse of Barber's potential on both ends of the floor. Not only did he score 19 points, but he helped break open a close game in the second half and played stellar defense on the opponent's top player.
"Cat is getting more comfortable," said Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried. "I probably should have played Tyler (Lewis) more but what kept Cat in the game was his defense on (leading scorer and preseason All-Big West guard Mike) Caffey. Caffey got away on a couple of breaks, but in the halfcourt sets, Cat did a great job on Caffey."
NC State (6-2) pulled away midway in the second half after Long Beach State (1-9) cut the lead to 50-49 with 12:41 left. A three-point play by T.J. Warren (23 points), as well as key hoops by Ralston Turner and Kyle Washington off the bench, led an 11-2 run to give the Wolfpack a 61-51 lead with 9:31 remaining.
Long Beach State never got closer than 61-55 with 7:56 left and NC State pushed the lead up to 71-57. The 49ers, who have lost nine straight, went on an horrific scoring drought in the second half with only six points over a 10-minute stretch.
"Caffey (16 points, 6 assists) never got his rhythm," Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said. "Barber did a great job on him, and he is getting better and better for them. He's hitting his jump shots and if that happens, he is going to be a very good player."
Long Beach State attacked the larger Wolfpack inside in the first half. Forward Dan Jennings (18 points) scored 10 of his 12 first-half points going right at 7-1 NC State Center Jordan Vandenberg and the 49ers scored 14 of its 29 first-half points inside the paint.
Even though the Wolfpack got little from Warren in the first half, Barber and backcourt mate Desmond Lee (15 points) controlled the half. Both players scored 11 points apiece as NC State led 36-29 at halftime.
"Every day I am learning and doing better," Barber said. "I'm tired of everyone saying I can't shoot. I am going to bring it out and show everyone I can shoot. If I have an open 3, I'm going to shoot that. Anything I can see and think I can make, I'll shoot it to help us win."
After trailing 36-29 at halftime, Long Beach State came out in the second half and outscored the Wolfpack 17-12 in the first seven minutes to cut the lead to 48-46. Caffey snapped out of his first-half struggles to score six of the 49ers' first eight points of the half.