RALEIGH, N.C. — NC State (19-12, 9-9 ACC) and Boston College (8-23, 4-14 ACC) ended the ACC regular season in fun fashion as NC State — perhaps more aptly known as the Fightin’ T.J. Warren’s — prevailed, 78-68.
1. T.J. Warren versus Boston College, and T.J. Warren won.
Well, not literally. Although it seemed that way it times.
Warren is a scorer. This is hardly a secret. If such a thing is possible, at halftime, Warren had a quiet 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
Then he got even quieter for awhile, getting to 24 points at the 19:05 mark before falling silent — not getting a shot attempt for over seven more minutes. It showed in the score, as his team trailed by two.
From the 18:14 mark until the end of the game, every field goal NC State had was either scored or assisted by Warren.
And from the 18:14 mark until 12:16 remained, that was zero. Zero field goals. Because Warren didn’t hit any, and neither did anyone else.
Around the 12:16 mark, he decided, you know what? Time for a few field goals.
And so he scored 17 of his career-high 42 points in the that span, including 11 between the 5:58 mark and the 1:30 mark, to give his team an eight-point lead.
He converted an and-one, got a steal and a putback, then a steal and two free throws, then drew the defense on a drive and hit a three, then hit free throws and more free throws, all while getting steals and rebounds galore.
The fans in PNC Arena stood for a bit longer than usual to give him a standing ovation, and chanted "T-J-War-ren" at him as the game wound down. Because he deserved it.
Is he ACC Player of the Year? Probably not for everyone, who might value a team in the top four in the league standings more than an NC State team that will likely wind up in the NIT. But it’s hard to argue with what he’s done.
He won’t speak on his own behalf, dismissing calls to make a stump speech of sorts. He shakes his head shyly. "It’s whatever. It would be great to get (Player of the Year), but you know."
But the leading scorer in the ACC (by a mile), who scored 83 points this week on 45 shots, is somehow still having to validate himself to others, even if he doesn’t know or care.
His teammates don’t mind speaking up for him, though.
"Numbers don’t lie. We ain’t even gotta go there," teammate Dez Lee said. "If he don’t get it, then something’s wrong. His numbers is crazy. Back to back 40-point games, what, 12 rebounds, and then he’s assisting the ball now? What more do they want him to do? And then, good percentages. It’s not like he’s just out there jacking up shots and missing them. He’s shooting over 50 percent, so. Player of the Year to me."
2. NC State’s defense is still, to put it mildly, dreadful.
Boston College is actually a good offensive team. But for too long, NC State made its own life far too difficult by allowing the Eagles to shoot 48.1 percent in the second half and sending them to the foul line 12 times (20 in the game). They also let Boston College get 11 offensive rebounds and forced them to turn it over just eight times.
In the end, it was enough because NC State had to be just that good offensively. But this kind of defensive effort was more reminiscent of NC State’s game against Miami than it was the huge win at Pitt, and frankly, they won’t be in Greensboro very long next week if they don’t.
NC State locked up the No. 7 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament with the win, and the Wolfpack will face the winner of Miami and Virginia Tech on Friday night. It was a nice coup to avoid getting stuck in the 8-9 game against a hot Maryland team, but NC State is still going to have to win.
If NC State can advance, it will get another crack at the No. 2 overall seed, Syracuse. And after that, this team feels that all bets are off.
But they have to get there first. And to get there, they have to defend.
3. The Wolfpack still want to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, however slim those might be.
NC State head coach Mark Gottfried used to work at ESPN. He mentioned that he was watching his former network and was puzzled at why certain teams from other conferences were locks at .500 in their own leagues, or worse, at times.
The ACC is not going to get a lot of respect nationally, but here’s the issue for NC State and other fringe teams in the league — they didn’t do enough out of conference to ensure a bid for themselves. The Big 10 went into league play as the best league in the country, and it was going to stay that way until proven otherwise.
That means something, what teams do out of conference, and with NC State missing its chance to get big wins against teams like Cincinnati and Missouri (or even failing to beat NC Central), it has put itself in this position.
Not to mention the numerous chances at big wins gone by in league play, like North Carolina at home, or at Syracuse orr even chances for bad losses that were missed.
Either way, NC State will probably have to make a significant run in Greensboro next weekend to sniff the NCAA Tournament. But it’s at least put itself in position to do that at this point, and with one of the best players in the country on their side, who knows?
"I’m playing my best basketball right now, and I just want to keep that up," Warren said. "It’s March."