N.C. State is starting to put together the intangibles to go along with its other winning parts.
By ANDREW JONES FS Carolinas
RALEIGH, NC — North Carolina State has talent, NBA talent. That isn't debatable.
The No. 20
Wolfpack are also an experienced group, with two seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup. Freshman forward T.J. Warren may be the best sixth man in the ACC. So clearly, NC State has the pieces in place to win plenty of games this season, and give top-ranked
Duke a test when the
Blue Devils visit Saturday.
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.
But don't tell that to Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory. He's not buying the theory that the Wolfpack are 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
Yellow Jackets 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."
NC 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 allowed NCSU to outscore Tech 28-15 in the final 7:20 after being tied 55-all.
Tech turned over the ball just seven 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 NC 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 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, which were 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 NC 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 sliding 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 he said, "I just move more," Wood said, "I'm smarter."
Hence, he's better at moving without the ball. 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.