RALEIGH, N.C. — The mark of a good basketball team is one that wins a lot and improves while doing so. That often requires simply finding a different method of locating the winner’s circle.
North Carolina State has managed to put together a couple of weeks of hoops where it has beaten some quality teams while making literal progress on each occasion. It’s one thing to simply win, especially in December, but it’s altogether something else when the growth is so clearly pronounced.
Tuesday night’s 88-79 victory over Stanford was another example of how Mark Gottfried’s 25th-ranked team is continuing to find itself, and the meshing process at times can reveal some mighty impressive hoops. The theme on this night: The Vets.
The four veteran Wolfpack players that originally went to N.C. State to play for former coach Sidney Lowe haven’t all shown off their laundry list of combined talents on the same night too often since Gottfried took over before last season. On this night, the coach saw firsthand just how lethal his team is when the quartet is clicking.
“They’ve been in games like this,” Gottfried said. “Throughout their careers they’ve been in some wars like this and they stepped up. And we expect them to be good in games like this.”
Seniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell teamed with junior C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown to score 74 points, grab 25 rebounds, hand out 10 assists and block six shots in pulling away from a solid Cardinal team that came in having won three consecutive games.
A native of Indiana, Wood has been a sharpshooter since he arrived, and on Tuesday hit five 3s in the first 10:48 of the contest. The last three came in a span of 74 seconds.
The treys lifted the building and infused the Wolfpack. The residual effect was seen in every aspect of NCSU’s game. Of course, given that Wood had drained just one perimeter shot in the previous two games and has been inconsistent this season, Gottfried and company will take it when he’s hot with open arms.
“He’s had a couple of games where he’s been in foul trouble, he hasn’t really shot it well or hasn’t gotten a lot of shots and hadn’t done a lot offensively,” the coach said. “He’s one of those guys you don’t say a lot to, you know he’s going to come back around.”
Leslie showed no signs of being disinterested Tuesday. Instead, there was a quiet focus about his game, which resulted in 16 points and six rebounds. The 6-foot-9 Raleigh native even played well on defense battling Stanford star Dwight Powell.
The strong and long 6-foot-10 Powell had 15 points and five rebounds in the first half, but just eight and three after the intermission. Leslie even drew a charging foul on the Cardinal’s leading scorer.
Howell turned in his sixth double-double of the season and fourth in as many games. He even handed out a pair of assists. But perhaps the sequence that most reveals his dramatic transformation as a player came in the second half. Howell beat his man backdoor, and after missing a layup was right back off his feet with a put-back for a 62-47 lead with 12:20 remaining.
And, of course there was Brown, who is stringing together the best stretch of games of his career. Tuesday’s was his best.
He finished with 24 points, five rebounds and managed the team well. Brown isn’t vocal, in fact he says very little on the floor. But he’s joined Howell as the Pack’s leaders, and on this night they led the way.