Gottfried’s misuse of bench could cost team

On the surface, it’s pretty easy to suggest the reason North Carolina State lost 58-55 at Virginia on Tuesday night was because it lost point guard Lorenzo Brown to an ankle injury midway through the first half of the game.

After all, the junior playmaker has been the Wolfpack’s best player and was off to a solid start against the Cavaliers. But even without Brown, the Wolfpack are more talented than Virginia, and with a McDonald’s All-American serving as Brown’s backup, N.C. State still should have been in decent shape.

But it wasn’t.

Tyler Lewis was okay, but he could have been better in his 15 minutes on the floor. He finished with 3 points and two assists, converting 1-of-3 field goal attempts. But the offense didn’t run with much fluidity under his guidance, though it was smoother than when starting shooting guard Rodney Purvis ran things.

The No. 18 Wolfpack led 12-7 with 10:38 left in the half when Brown went down and Pack led 31-24 at the half. But they were outscored 34-24 after halftime and had a lot of trouble getting good looks.

“We didn’t execute nearly as well as we should have late in the game and we also had some opportunities where we had the ball right around the rim,” Gottfried said. “We just couldn’t seem to score. That was tough.”

One of the problems was that as decorated as Lewis was entering school, he hasn’t gotten nearly enough experience getting ready for such emergencies. Gottfried stuck to his core six-man rotation too often in November and December games, and by the time ACC play arrived, it was obvious he didn’t trust Lewis that much.

In fact, in seven ACC games before Tuesday, Lewis played just 23 minutes. In defense of Gottfried, Lewis looked out of place in his two minutes of action in a victory over Duke, but as much as anything, that has probably been a byproduct of not getting enough minutes against more inferior competition.

Lewis played just nine minutes against Cleveland State, four versus Stanford, 10 against St. Bonaventure, and nine against UNC-Greensboro. And if preparing for a possible injury to Brown was Gottfried’s focus as much as winning the minutes at hand regardless of the competition, Lewis should have gotten more minutes against Penn State (he had 10), Connecticut (six), Norfolk State (16), and even Georgia Tech, in which he played just five minutes in State’s 83-70 victory.

Lewis saw no action in a one-point loss at Maryland.

If Brown can’t play in Saturday’s home game against soaring No. 14 Miami (16-3, 7-0), Lewis will be the team’s most important player. Gottfried has to go with the other point guard on the roster. Playing Purvis means freshman T.J. Warren will start, and that certainly helps the Wolfpack (16-5, 5-3 ACC) maintain a very talented starting five, but it also means two players are essentially out of position: Purvis and whoever the two guard is.

Scott Wood can shoot, but he’s not a great defender on small forwards, much less shooting guards. Warren is comfortable on the perimeter, but is most productive playing closer to the basket, so he needs to play the three position. Purvis can spell Lewis, but Gottfried has to go with a young man he felt enough of to give a scholarship.  

“I think he’s (Brown) the best point guard in the ACC,” Gottfried said. “Obviously, we are different without him. We have to overcome that, and if he doesn’t play on Saturday we’ll have to do that for 40 minutes. It’s part of the game. I think it affects everything.

“Injuries are part of the game … so you just have to find a way.”

Lewis may not be Brown, but he’s State’s best option of Brown can’t go.