Norfolk St.-NC State Preview

Still trying to mesh some talented freshmen with four returning

starters, North Carolina State’s lengthy homestand may have come at

the right time.

The 25th-ranked Wolfpack return from a week off and look to keep

improving on the defensive end Saturday night when they meet

Norfolk State in the second of six straight home games.

Preseason favorites to win the ACC, the Wolfpack (6-2) were

ranked sixth and opened 3-0 before a poor end to their November

schedule. They lost by 20 to Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rico

Tipoff championship and fell 79-72 at third-ranked Michigan in the

ACC/Big Ten Challenge. In between, they barely slipped past

visiting North Carolina-Asheville 82-80 on Nov. 23.

North Carolina State, though, rebounded to defeat Connecticut

69-65 on Dec. 4 and Cleveland State 80-63 last Saturday in its

annual game back at Reynolds Coliseum, where the team played from


“We’re learning that for the most part when you do have some

attention around your program, you better bring it every night

because teams are going to play better against you,” coach Mark

Gottfried said.

While offense hasn’t been a problem for Gottfried’s team, which

ranks second nationally in field-goal shooting at 52.1 percent,

defense had been a big concern before solid efforts in the past two


The Wolfpack had allowed at least 76 points in four straight

games before holding UConn and Cleveland State to an average of

64.0 on 42.0 percent shooting. Their previous two opponents each

hit 50.0 percent from the field.

North Carolina State forced 18 turnovers and had a season-high

seven blocked shots last Saturday.

Forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell have keyed the

Wolfpack’s explosive offense, each recording three double-doubles

in the past four games. Leslie, a junior, is averaging 16.3 points

and 10.5 boards in that span while Howell has averaged 16.3 and

10.0, respectively.

Howell, shooting 68.1 percent from the field to rank second

nationally, is one of two seniors among the seven regulars in

Gottfried’s rotation.

“I thought I needed to step up and fulfill that (leadership)

role with this being my last year,” Howell said. “I feel like we

can go far but leadership is something we lacked.”

T.J. Warren, one of the team’s freshman additions, isn’t far

behind Howell in field-goal shooting at 67.1 percent to rank fourth

in the country. He returned to a reserve role last Saturday after

starting the previous two games but came through with 16


The Wolfpack might have a tough time getting open looks against

Norfolk State (6-6), which has held opponents to 34.3 percent

shooting over its last four games.

The Spartans, who shocked No. 2 seed Missouri in the first round

of last season’s NCAA tournament, will make another upset bid after

nearly knocking off 10th-ranked Illinois on Tuesday. They were

within three with less than two minutes left before losing 64-54,

snapping a four-game winning streak.

“We really have to work on finishing basketball games because we

had opportunities down the stretch,” coach Anthony Evans said.

Pendarvis Williams (12.0), Malcolm Hawkins (11.7) and Rob

Johnson (10.1) lead six players averaging 7.0-to-12.0 points for

the Spartans. Hawkins and Johnson, though, combined for 14 points

on 5-of-21 shooting against the Illini after totaling 76 points in

the previous two contests.

Norfolk State has averaged 74.3 points and shot 47.0 percent in

its six wins, compared to 56.0 points on 36.4 percent shooting in

six losses.

North Carolina State won these teams’ only meeting – 81-63 on

Feb. 14, 1998 – and is 28-0 all-time against Mid-Eastern Athletic

Conference opponents.