Three Hits: NC State rules roost in First Four win over Xavier

Sophomore star T.J. Warren (25 points on 10-of-18 shooting) and the Wolfpack shot 55 percent from the field against Xavier.

Here are three things we gleaned from North Carolina State’s 74-59 victory over Xavier in the First Four round of the NCAA tournament. The 12th-seeded Wolfpack will next battle No. 5 Saint Louis in the Round of 64 in Orlando.

As a No. 8 seed in last season’s NCAA tourney, N.C. State lost to Temple with Warren netting only four points and four rebounds. Granted, he was merely a callow freshman on a veteran-laden squad, but the memory of that hollow defeat might have been a huge factor in Tuesday’s successful clash with Xavier.

And frankly, the Musketeers had no answer for Warren, who rolled for 25 points (10 of 18 shooting), five rebounds and three steals — scoring on a wide array of set shots, running jumpers, step-back moves and post-steal run outs.

The only downside to Warren’s night: He missed both three-point attempts. One of those rolled around the rim for about three seconds before not going through the net.

Warren, the ACC Player of the Year, has been dynamite since Jan. 15, scoring at least 20 points in 20 straight outings — including back-to-back 40-plus outings on March 3 (vs. Pittsburgh) and 9 (Boston College).

As such, Warren (who was a little nicked-up in the first half) was an effective distraction to the Xavier defense, allowing Ralston Turner (17 points; three triples) to help carry the scoring load.

The following statement isn’t a direct condemnation of Muskies center Matt Stainbrook getting snuffed by the bottom of the backboard on a wide-open layup attempt. (He ended up making the put-back shot.)

Xavier’s problems went deeper than that.

Yes, guard Semaj Christon (14 points, four rebounds), forward Isaiah Philmore (11 points, four assists) and Stainbrook (19 points, nine boards) had good nights on the stat sheet. But it’s hard to remember any sustained period of Xavier taking over the game … and by extension, enforcing its will onto the N.C. State defense.

After all, Christon turned the ball over seven times, Philmore was routinely out of position on defensive help scenarios and Stainbrook, despite the strong numbers, was an athletic detriment on post isolation plays (offense) and when sprinting back on defense.

Against Xavier, North Carolina State shot 55 percent from the field — a strong figure that actually went up a few ticks (58 percent), when removing Warren’s superb contribution.

In short, the entire Wolfpack played a sublime role in their First Four victory. The best example of teamwork might have occurred when N.C. State was riding a 10-point lead with less than five minutes remaining:

‘Pack point guard Tyler Lewis (seven points, eight assists) drained the clock with plenty of dribbling. That exhibition even bothered Warren around the 9-second mark, who was trying to set a pick-and-roll on the left side.

Instead, Lewis combined forces with Jordan Vanderberg (nine points, four blocks), who rolled off a right-side hard screen and then received a perfectly placed bounce pass for an easy dunk. With that thunderous score, N.C. State essentially cemented the game before the final TV timeout.

Which brings us to Thursday night …

Yes, N.C. State has to immediately fly to another tourney venue on short rest. But then again, that shouldn’t be a hindrance for a surging club that now draws perhaps the NCAA tourney’s weakest No. 5 seed — Saint Louis.

The Billikens (26-6 overall) have dropped four of their last five games. During three of those losses, the opposition averaged 48 percent shooting from the field and seven made three-pointers.

The Wolfpack, on the flip side, have won four of their last five outings. They also have one more nugget to celebrate:

Of their last three NCAA-tourney visits as a double-digit seed (2005, 2006, 2012), the Wolfpack have at least advanced to the Round of 32 each time.

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