Lorenzo Brown essential to N.C. State success

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State is one of the top teams in the nation when Lorenzo Brown plays well.

The media’s main focus is on junior forward C.J. Leslie, and he certainly is an x-factor for the Wolfpack. But N.C. State can survive games when Leslie doesn’t play all that well as long as Brown does his thing.

And lately, he’s been doing it more consistently.

The 6-foot-5 junior from Roswell, GA, is neither a natural point guard nor is he a shooting guard. He is a classic combo guard whose game evokes few memories of previous Wolfpack or ACC players. He is unique.

But Brown doesn’t see himself as a rare commodity, he just views himself as a basketball player charged with the responsibility of helping the 25th-ranked Wolfpack win games.

“We have a lot of scorers on this team … and it’s my job get those guys open (the ball) at those times,” Brown said Saturday night following the Pack’s 84-62 victory over Norfolk State. “And yeah, it’s basketball; you have to make the right reads and make the right plays.”

N.C. State (7-2) broke free from exams Saturday night to host the dangerous Spartans, who last spring upset Missouri in the NCAA Tournament and this season has some solid performances on their resume.

Plenty of teams come out flat after exams, but Brown’s play at the outset ignited the home team, giving them an early spark. And after Norfolk later cut well into NCSU’s lead, Brown again fused a surge on both ends of the floor that basically put away the visitors from the MEAC.

The expressionless Wooden Award candidate did it with his defense, registering four steals on the night. He did it with his unselfishness, handing out seven assists, including an alley-oop layup to freshman Rodney Purvis. It wasn’t a smooth play at all, although the ball managed to fall through the cylinder. But it was a beautiful thought and the mental connection the pair had on that play will come in handy down the road.

“Honestly, I don’t know how that went in,” Purvis said, laughing. “It hurt my finger nail, so I don’t really know how that went in. But, it’s good to know that we are getting a feel for each other and knowing what each other can do.”

And Brown found varying ways to put the ball in the basket. He finished with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting by scoring on driving layups, short jumpers, runners and even a 3-pointer. And, as has increasingly been the case of late, Brown made his teammates better. It was a complete game for N.C. State’s most complete player.

“I thought early in the year he tried to do too much at times,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said about Brown, who has averaged 14 points in guiding NCSU to three straight victories since a loss at Michigan.

“He was driving and really ended up with some tough shots. I think he’s really running our team better lately and it’s making our team better.”

Of course, as solid as Norfolk State is, it isn’t the likes of what N.C. State will face in Atlantic Coast Conference play, which begins in just a few weeks. The Wolfpack will need Leslie and senior forward Richard Howell to consistently play at a high level to challenge Duke, Miami, Maryland and the rest of the improved ACC for the league title. But most important will be the play of Brown.

State is 6-0 when Brown scores in double figures, and in the only game he failed to hand out at least four assists, the Wolfpack was pounded by Oklahoma State. On the season, Brown averages 11.7 points, 6 assists, 41 rebounds and 2.3 steals each time he takes the floor. He still must cut down the turnovers — Brown has coughed it up 34 times on the season.

“We were just getting into it a little bit,” he said. “We’ve had trouble in the past passing the ball with turnovers and things like that. But I think we did a better job this game of taking care of the ball.”

Brown rarely speaks about himself, it just isn’t in his personality. And that’s why he’s the right player to manage the Wolfpack’s UCLA offense moving forward.