Warren, Wolfpack rout Deacs
FEB 12, 2014 12:05a ET
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The last time NC State (16-8, 6-5 ACC) faced Wake Forest (14-10, 4-7 ACC), sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis was the same place a lot of the fans were -- head in a trash can, throwing up.
Okay, so the fans weren't literally throwing up. But Lewis, sick to his stomach, was, back in the visitor's locker room in Winston-Salem.
"I was mostly staring at the trash can that game," Lewis said. "The only time I turned on the TV was the last play of the game."
And the last play of the game, as it turned out, was Wake Forest sophomore point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre going coast-to-coast for the game-winning lay-up with four seconds to go.
"I don't think I should've turned it on," Lewis said. "Maybe it was bad luck for our team."
The two teams couldn't possibly be going in different directions since. Wake has lost five of its last seven since that win, while NC State has won five of seven.
Sophomore super-scorer T.J. Warren lived up to his name for the Wolfpack in the rematch as well, pouring in a career-high 34 points on 15-of-26 shooting. He struggled with foul trouble in the loss at Winston-Salem and didn't play the final three minutes of the game after fouling out.
Warren scored in every way imaginable. He ran the floor for six fastbreak points, he hit 3-of-5 three-pointers for nine more there and he had six points doing what he does best: attacking the offensive glass for putbacks. Of his 11 misses, he turned two into second-chance buckets by following his shot.
But he hit jumpers, leaners in the lane, snaking into traffic to find a way to put the ball in the basket.
It's just what he does.
"I was just playing basketball," Warren said. "They just kept telling me to stay aggressive, shots were falling, so I wanted to stay aggressive."
Okay, so he's going to be modest. His teammates won't be.
"Whenever T.J.'s rolling, it's kind of easy out there. Just find him and get out of the way, basically," Lewis, his roommate and good friend, said. "He just scores so easily and it's so natural for him. He just tells me to look up and I hit him, and all of a sudden, it's two points."
"He's one of the best I've ever had. I've had some good players play for me, but he's got a knack to score in such a variety of ways, which I think it's unique," NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said. "He's a really gifted offensive player that does, he scores in a lot of different ways. And I think right now he's playing with a lot of confidence, too. A lot of confidence."
Not unlike his team.
As the Wolfpack have faced more and more zone defense, they've gradually learned to dissect it better offensively. The same Wake Forest zone that stymied the NC State offense in the second half of that game in Winston-Salem nearly a month ago now was dealt with easily this time around.
One big difference, of course, is the guy that was puking his guts out in the second half in Winston-Salem.
"Tyler, when he's at the top, he's orchestrating us and telling us to move around, moving the basketball and getting it in the post," Warren said. "It's easier because they all try to sink in and you get open three's. We'll just try to keep using our post as a decoy."
Lewis, the son of a high school basketball coach, is well-versed in how to attack a zone. He's not as athletic or quick as Cat Barber, who was playing most of NC State's minutes at the point guard spot until the last few weeks, but he knows the game.
And he knows that play pretty well, the one where he finds a gap in the zone and gets the ball to Warren. That play seems to work.
"I've played against zone my whole life," Lewis said. "I feel like I know how to control the offense and attack their defense in the zone and get other people open shots. I don't find it too hard."
This isn't the same team as the one that lost in Winston-Salem. That much is clear. And Lewis is a big reason for that.
"I felt like if I would've played the whole second half, we would've won that game. But I didn't," Lewis said. "Luckily, I was healthy this time around."
But the tough part starts now for NC State, which heads up to No. 1 and undefeated Syracuse on Saturday.
Naturally, they'll see plenty of zone in that game. Or, all zone.
This young team has ridden the highs and lows of this season fairly well for an inexperienced group, and Saturday will show a lot about how far they've come.
"We're gaining a lot of confidence just because we're winning. It's easy to stay happy when you're winning," Lewis said. "But we have a big game on Saturday. Hopefully we can go up there and shock some people."
Not a bad time for the Wolfpack to be playing their best basketball of the season, either.
"I just think overall, we've made some steps to get better. Hopefully, I've always said, you want your teams to play their best in February and March and that's our goal is to somehow get our team to play its best later in the year," Gottfried said.