Young Wolfpack struggle with UNC-Pembroke in exhibition win
RALEIGH, N.C. -- A young NC State team encountered a harsh reality in its 96-85 exhibition win over UNC Pembroke, which is that the Wolfpack are exceedingly young.
They already knew that, of course. But a young team got younger when seven-foot senior center Jordan Vandenberg, who was running the floor like a gazelle in the early going for two easy buckets, went out with an ankle injury five minutes into the game.
And they had to go smaller, too. Of NC State's other four bigs, three are freshmen and one -- sophomore T.J. Warren -- is more of a tweener than a true power forward.
The freshmen -- BeeJay Anya, Lennard Freeman and Kyle Washington -- all showed flashes. But collectively, NC State was out-rebounded 44-33 by a smaller UNC Pembroke team and allowed 19 second-chance points.
The small lineup had its advantages, though. Particularly athletically.
"I think at times, with T.J. (Warren) there as the fourth guy or the second big, however you want to look at it, it gets those guys that are more ready to play right now on the floor," NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said. "We lose Jordan Vandenberg, which is tough, and hopefully not for long. We'll see. X-rays were negative, he’ll have an MRI tomorrow. But we become small without Jordan pretty quick. So we'll see. We'll see if that's the way we need to play at times."
Warren, who received votes for Preseason First Team All-ACC and is expected to lead the Wolfpack in scoring, did that with 26 on 10-of-16 shooting, adding a team-high ten rebounds.
But Warren was the only real known commodity. LSU transfer Ralston Turner, who hadn’t played a game since March 13, 2012, was a pleasant surprise.
Turner shot a tick over 37 percent from three his sophomore year at LSU, but he showed a diverse skill set that his previous stats didn’t really indicate. Turner had 20 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. In his sophomore year at LSU, he had a total of eight blocks and 18 steals in 33 games.
"It felt pretty good," Turner said of his return to action. "It's been 19 months since I played a game, so I was just glad to get back out there. I had some jitters, I was nervous but once the game got started I was okay."
Gottfried has been saying since the season began that sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis and freshman Cat Barber will each run the team, and will play some together. In the limited time that they shared the court, Lewis ran the point while Barber guarded the opposing point guard. Which will almost certainly be how they’re used when they share the court in a real game.
Lewis' court vision and passing skills were on display all night, particularly early when he got the Wolfpack going in transition. NC State finished with 36 fastbreak points, and it felt like all 15 of Lewis' assists were in transition.
Gottfried said Lewis reminded him of last year's First Team All-ACC forward Richard Howell, now graduated (and playing overseas) in that sense that the team often took for granted that Howell would go out and get ten rebounds or so. Lewis is so good at finding teammates that it's easy to take his 15 assists for granted, too.
And it's not like Gottfried didn't know this team would be young before the season began.
Which is part of the reason he decided to have two exhibition games (the second of which is on Saturday) rather than one exhibition game and a "secret scrimmage" against another team.
He knew that his young guys needed to play in front of fans in a game-like atmosphere. Barber, who he said gave the team a spark, was a clear example of why he made that decision. Barber finished with 14 points on 3-of-10 shooting, but had two assists and four turnovers.
He looked a little shaky at points throughout the game, particularly in the first half. But when the game was still reasonably close -- a nine-point NC State lead with 3:29 to go -- he subbed out the more veteran Lewis and let Barber run the show.
"I thought in the first half when he came in, he was really tentative. At halftime, I told him, 'You've got to turn it loose. You've got to just cut loose a little bit and don't be afraid to make a mistake and play'," Gottfried said.
"But I think that’s what's good. We chose to play the two exhibitions games this year rather than the closed scrimmage because so many new guys and young guys, it gives those guys like Cat and Desmond (Lee) and Lennard (Freeman) and Kyle (Washington) and BeeJay (Anya) a chance to play in front of people, put your uniform on and play, and I think our group needed that. So even with Cat tonight, I thought he was much better in the second half than he was in the first."
Lee is a newcomer, but he is a junior college transfer. Like the rest of the young players, he looked a little shaky early before settling in nicely. Lee was the team's third-leading scorer with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but he was 6-of-7 in the second half for all 16 of those points. The 6-4 guard also had three first-half turnovers and none in the second.
Turner, who goes against Lee in practice, said the second-half Lee is the Lee he sees every day.
"Desmond is real athletic," Turner said. "He can do a lot of things. He can dribble. He can shoot. Second half, I pretty much saw him go back to himself."
There's no cause for concern for the close game, because this team knows that it is young. And if anything, Warren said it's good that the team got tested.
"We've got a brand new team. Everybody's so anxious to get out there and wants to play in front of a big crowd," Warren said. "We're still learning with our freshmen, but they'll get better."