NEW YORK Jim Valvano made a career, and won a national title, out of winning close games for N.C. State.
In only its second appearance in the Jimmy V Classic, N.C. State honored Valvano in the most appropriate way possible, a close win over Connecticut at Madison Square Garden.
Richard Howell scored 13 points and Lorenzo Brown had 16 to lead the No. 25 Wolfpack to 69-65 win over the Huskies on Tuesday night.
N.C. State (5-2) wore special, throwback uniforms to honor Valvano, their late coach who led them to the 1983 national title and succumbed to cancer 11 years later. The jerseys had Valvano's inspirational line, "Don't Ever Give Up" on the backs of the jerseys.
After disappointing early-season losses to Oklahoma State and Michigan, the 25th-ranked Wolfpack needed to show some life outside the ACC.
Howell provided the spark with 11 of his 13 points in the second half and all 10 of his rebounds. Forward C.J. Leslie added 15 points, including two momentum-swinging dunks in the second half, and 12 rebounds.
It was a win N.C. State needed. The Wolfpack, not the 2011 national champs, started the season at No. 6 in the country and with big expectations.
The Huskies, meanwhile, were a program in disarray. The NCAA benched the program for the postseason for poor Academic Progress Rate scores, which cost UConn two transfers and two underclassmen who jumped early to the NBA.
And longtime coach Jim Calhoun, winner of three NCAA titles, retired and turned the program over to former point guard Kevin Ollie.
If not for the inspired second half from Howell, who was briefly knocked out of the game in the first half by an inadvertent elbow from Leslie, N.C. State would have been searching for serious answers about a nonconference season gone awry.
Howell's follow of a Rodney Purvis miss with 4:42 left in the game put the Pack a 57-53 lead. Leslie's steal and dunk 27 seconds after Howell's put-back gave State the breathing room it needed to close out the Huskies, who played hard and gave State its best shot.
Leslie's follow dunk at 1:51 gave the Pack a 61-55 lead but Ryan Boatright responded with a 3-pointer to cut the margin in half.
Fittingly, Howell put the game away with a basket with 1:14 left. He missed his free throw but tapped the miss back to out to Brown to give the Pack an extra possession.
Guard Shabazz Napier led UConn with 19 points and big man Enosch Wolf had 12 points off the bench.
Napier scored 15 points in the first half, including the first 10 of the game for the Huskies. UConn can't play at Madison Square Garden at the end of the season, in the Big East tournament, so it was intent on making the most of the trip.
The Huskies' biggest lead of the first half was 11 points. Omar Calhoun's 3-pointer at 11:37 gave UConn a 20-9 advantage.
N.C. State struggled in the first half with Scott Wood in foul trouble, he had three in the first 9 minutes of the game, and Howell groggy from an inadvertent elbow from teammate C.J. Leslie. Howell missed the final 7 minutes of the first half.
The Wolfpack got back in the game by creating points in transition. Purvis and Leslie were aggressive in the fullcourt game, which helped State shoot 50 percent in the first half.
UConn shot only 32.4 percent in the first half but had 11 offensive rebounds and made six 3-pointers, to only three from State.
Brown led N.C. State with nine points in the first half but had five turnovers and had trouble keeping up with Napier.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less