Cleveland St.-NC State Preview

With a ton of returning talent and a pair of promising freshmen

coming in, North Carolina State entered the season with huge

expectations.

While it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the Wolfpack

thus far, they showed signs of coming around their last time

out.

No. 25 North Carolina State looks to build on its latest win

Saturday when it hosts Cleveland State.

After reaching the regional semifinals of last season’s NCAA

tournament, the Wolfpack (5-2), led by Richard Howell, C.J. Leslie,

Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood, figured to become all the more

formidable with the additions of T.J. Warren and Rodney Purvis.

North Carolina State got off to a good start by winning its

first three games but has split its last four. The Wolfpack, who

fell 76-56 to Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rico Tipoff title game

Nov. 18 before avoiding a monumental upset by sneaking past UNC

Asheville 82-80 at home five days later, went on to lose 79-72 at

No. 3 Michigan on Nov. 27.

North Carolina State, though, bounced back with its first

noteworthy win of the season Tuesday, beating Connecticut 69-65 in

the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. Leslie had 16 points

and a season-best 13 rebounds while Howell added 13 and 10 for the

Wolfpack, who held the Huskies to 40.3 percent shooting.

“I think this was a gutsy win and I thought we really defended

better in the second half,” said coach Mark Gottfried, whose team

has dropped 19 spots in the AP poll after opening at No. 6. “First

half, (Connecticut’s) rebounding killed us. We were not rebounding

the ball nearly as well as we can.”

While there’s no debating the Wolfpack’s offensive prowess, it’s

their defensive efforts that have proven make or break. North

Carolina State is 4-0 when holding teams to under 41.0 percent

shooting and 1-2 when it doesn’t – with its lone victory coming

over one-win UNC Asheville.

The Wolfpack have posted a 38.6 opponent field-goal percentage

in taking 14 of 15 home games against unranked, non-conference

foes, a trend they’ll look to continue Saturday against Cleveland

State (6-2).

The Vikings are coming off back-to-back wins, 69-63 at Ball

State on Nov. 28 and 78-73 over Toledo last Saturday. Sophomore

Charlie Lee scored a career-high 22 points to go along with seven

assists for Cleveland State, which closed Saturday’s game on a 7-2

run.

“I give this team such a heads up because they’re fighting with

all types of odds out there every game,” said coach Gary Waters,

who is one win away from 300. “They’re young, they got players

down, all kinds of things are happening to them but they’re never

quitting, they’re fighting back every time they get an

opportunity.”

Cleveland State’s biggest injury concern surrounds sophomore

Anton Grady. The 6-foot-8 forward, who averages 13.7 points and 5.5

rebounds, has missed the last two games with a knee injury and is

expected to be sidelined the rest of the month.

The Vikings also played Michigan – their only other matchup of

the season with a ranked opponent – and couldn’t keep up, falling

77-47 on Nov. 13.

Cleveland State had dropped its first 20 road games against

Top-25 foes before going 3-4 over its last seven, most recently

winning 71-58 at then-No. 7 Vanderbilt on Nov. 13, 2011.