N.C. State rolls past Va. Tech, gets Virginia in quarters
N.C. State (23-9, 11-7 ACC) dismantled No. 12-seed Virginia Tech 80-67 on Thursday in the second game of the 60th ACC Tournament. The last time N.C. State played Virginia Tech, it was a home game and the Hokies pushed the Wolfpack to overtime.
There were no such problems this time, as the Hokies got no closer than five points with 16:47 to go. And a big reason N.C. State controlled the game was point guard Lorenzo Brown held the nation’s leading scorer, Erick Green, to just 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Green had been shooting 48 percent from the field entering the game and averaging well over 25 points.
“I thought Lorenzo (Brown) was terrific in his one-on-one defense with (Erick) Green. I thought we did a much better job of helping him when he needed help than we did the first time we played Virginia Tech,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “Lorenzo made his mind up that he was going to do a good job on him and I thought he did.”
And of course, N.C. State’s “Mr. Dependable” Richard Howell had one of his best games in a long time with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Howell shot 11-of-13 from the floor as well. C.J. Leslie added 15 points for N.C. Sate, and Scott Wood and T.J. Warren added 13 points apiece.
Brown, who spent most of his night bothering Green, finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, but had 12 assists to just two turnovers. Brown missed three games in late January and early February, and N.C. State lost all three of those, including a close loss at Virginia to start out the skid.
“(Brown is) definitely getting better,” Howell said. “I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent because I’ve seen how he plays at 100 percent. I feel like he’s nowhere close. But he’s definitely getting there.”
N.C. State is now 7-2 since Brown returned from his injury (23-6 overall with Brown in the lineup for a full game), and yet there’s a lot of skepticism surrounding this team. Any time it seems like the Wolfpack is building momentum, it loses a game it shouldn’t.
The Wolfpack won six of its final eight games entering postseason play. But it was the final loss - a close road loss at Florida State - that gave the Wolfpack a No. 5 seed, and forced it to play a Thursday game, instead of a No. 4 seed.
Virginia got the bye instead. N.C. State will face Virginia today at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Virginia has not gotten past Friday of an ACC Tournament since 1995. N.C. State has reached the ACC Tournament Championship game four times in that span.
N.C. State has a thin roster and not a lot of margin for error at this point, but the Wolfpack is not worrying about trying to reach Sunday just yet. They just need to win the game ahead of them first.
And they need to continue to lock down defensively. N.C. State is at its best when it can force turnovers and get going in transition.
“We can’t worry about offense. I feel like that’s what we worry about a lot - offense, who’s going to score,” Howell said. “I feel like we have too many pieces for everybody to be worried about that. People are going to score. The main thing for us is just getting stops on defense. If we can continue to do that, I feel like we’re hard to beat.”
With N.C. State playing like it is, it darned near impossible to beat. But when Howell was asked if that were the case, he just smiled. “I don’t want to say that, but I do feel like the sky’s the limit. I don’t want to put any added pressure.
“We played on Thursday and that was something that we definitely didn’t expect, but we feel like it’s a good stepping stone and we’re heading towards the right direction," Howell said. "We’ve just got to keep it going and carry it over to the next game.”