DAYTON, Ohio – T.J. Warren’s slow start to Tuesday night’s First Four game included two quick fouls and a few forced shots against a swarming Xavier defense.
Warren would recover.
Xavier would not.
The NCAA tournament selection committee made NC State and Xavier the final two teams in the field of 68, and it took Warren and his teammates only a little more than a half to run Xavier out of the building and the bracket in what became a 74-59 win. The Wolfpack may have been the last team in the field, but they dance on to a game vs. No. 5 seed Saint Louis because Warren played in the second half like the ACC Player of the Year and his teammates provided plenty of help.
NC State (22-13) never lost the lead over the last 37 minutes. It was long over before Warren’s exclamation point dunk with 2:41 left that gave him his 25th and final point. The Wolfpack also got 17 from Ralston Turner, shot 55 percent for the game and spread the wealth; all nine players who got in the game scored.
"They made it hard for us at times to score but in the second half we did a much better job defending them," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "When we have other guys step up and score, we’ve played really well. We had that tonight."
NC State flew to Dayton on short notice and headed directly for the airport and Orlando after winning here late Tuesday; a Thursday night date with Saint Louis awaits. A team winning here has gone on to win at least one more game every year of the First Four’s existence, and though Saint Louis ranks in the top 20 nationally in defense, it has to stop Warren.
And, Gottfried hopes, everyone else.
"For us, it’s just continue on with what we’ve been doing," Gottfried said. "We’re getting better at some things. Our players understand TJ is a great scorer. They also know we need Raltson to make shots, other guys to pitch in."
As for any talk that NC State didn’t belong in the field, Gottfried and Warren each said the Wolfpack are embracing the new season and only looking ahead.
"We definitely belong here," Warren said. "We’re not too much worried about what people are saying."
Said Gottfried: "I haven’t talked about that one time. We believed in our hearts we deserved to be in."
The best news for Xavier (21-13) Tuesday night was that the bus ride back down I-75 is a short one. Xavier was 2-of-14 on 3-point shots, turned the ball over 13 times, got 9 shots blocked and got just 2 points from its bench.
Xavier shot it well (13-of-25) in the first half but went just 10-of-30 in the second half, and such sloppy offense gave the Musketeers little chance of keeping up with Warren, who scored 16 in the second half on 7-of-10 shooting.
"We picked the wrong night to play bad," Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
No one would argue. The best team Tuesday night was NC State, the best player was Warren, and now the Wolfpack go forward with momentum.