RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State has talent, NBA talent. That isn’t debatable.
The No. 20 Wolfpack is also an experienced group, with two seniors and two juniors in its starting lineup. Freshman forward T.J. Warren may be the best sixth man in the ACC.
So clearly, N.C. State has the pieces in place to win plemty of games this season.
The missing link, many observers have opined, is that Mark Gottfried’s team doesn’t apply the same emphasis on the little things – also known as the intangibles – like other top clubs. Don’t tell that to Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory. He’s not buying the theory that the Wolfpack is usually a disinterested bunch when it comes to defense.
“There’s a perception out there that State isn’t very good defensively,” Gregory said after his team fell to the Pack, 83-70, at PNC Arena on Wednesday night. “I’m trying to figure out who started that rumor. They’re long, they’re athletic, they have good size, and they have veteran players.”
N.C. State (13-2, 2-0 ACC) held the Yellow Jackets to 37 percent shooting from the field, including 30.6 percent in the second half that saw NCSU turn a 55-55 game with 7:20 remaining into the final margin.
Tech turned over the ball just 7 times on the night, but also only assisted on 8 of 27 made field goals. That’s defense.
In addition, and as important at crunch time, is that N.C. State willingly executes more detailed and intricate intangibles. For the second game in a row, senior Scott Wood drained key 3-pointers to gain separation and help forge a victory. He did it at Boston College last Saturday, and again Wednesday.
Two of Wood’s four 3-pointers came as NCSU pulled away in those final seven-plus minutes. In fact, he scored eight points in a four-minute span. Both of his 3s also came after he ran off well-set screens by 6-foot-9, 257-pound senior forward Richard Howell.
“He’s one of the best,” Gottfried said of Howell as a screener. “He’s a wide-body guy to begin with, but he takes pride in it. And Scott understands usually to come off of Richard’s screen is beneficial to him and he’ll hunt for that because he knows Richard’s a good screener, too.”
The Howell-Wood combination was huge late, with those two 3-pointers, and they were also both called from the bench. Gottfried’s confidence in the old vets making that play happen is off the charts. The coach basically says he knows the ball is going in. The rest of the Pack believes in the set, too.
“We run a play called ‘corner,’ and the big guys set screens for Scott,” said point guard Lorenzo Brown (21 points, 10 assists). “We always go to Richard – (Wood) always goes to Richard’s side because he sets the best screens on this team. So give a lot of credit to Richard.”
When Wood (20 points on Wednesday) arrived at N.C. State after tearing up the nets playing high school ball in Indiana, it was almost alarming at how little he moved without the ball. He didn’t run off screens and wasn’t real adept at getting open when set plays were called his way.
Fast-forward four seasons, and Wood has improved immeasurably at moving, cutting and rubbing off the big guys down low and popping out for open looks.
He says he’s not better moving without the ball, but when prodded added, “I just move more,” Wood said, “I’m smarter.”
Hence, he’s better at moving without the ball. And, that it wasn’t a real conscious thing for him further illustrates how Gottfried has changed so many layers of this program in just his second year at the helm.
The little things are becoming more and more instinctive.