RALEIGH If N.C. State’s basketball team is going to have a special February and March, the team’s freshmen will need to contribute a lot more than was the case in a 51-50 loss at Maryland last week.
In that vein, Sunday’s 66-62 escape against Clemson in the PNC Center was an encouraging development for the 14th-ranked Wolfpack.
Coming off the bewildering offensive performance at Maryland and already zeroing in on upcoming games at Wake Forest (Tuesday) and against North Carolina (Saturday), the Wolfpack (15-3, 4-1 ACC) was in a potentially dangerous situation against the Tigers (10-7, 2-3).
And had it not been for rookies T.J. Warren, with 21 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Rodney Purvis (11 points, nine in the first half), the Wolfpack would have taken a second straight hit –and on coach Mark Gottfried’s 49th birthday at that.
Until senior Scott Wood converted five critical free throws during the final 28 seconds, the Wolfpack’s veterans were outplayed by Clemson’s Devin Booker (27 points), Rod Hall (16) and Milton Jennings (nine points, eight rebounds).
N.C. State big men Richard Howell (11 points, 12 rebounds) and C.J. Leslie (six points, three rebounds) struggled most of the way. Wood scored 11 but wasn’t a factor until his free throws.
Warren, who did not score and missed all six field-goal attempts at Maryland, said he spent a lot of time Thursday, Friday and Saturday working on his shot.
“If I’d made one shot, we would have won at Maryland. Just two points,” the 6-foot-8 second-generation Wolfpack wing player said.
“I know I have to get more consistent. We (freshmen) know what we have to do. We’ll get better.”
Unlike several games this season, the Wolfpack got off to an impressive start. Thanks largely to the shooting of Purvis, the lead was 10-0 after three minutes, 28-18 with 4:30 left in the half and 34-26 at intermission. At that point, Warren had 14 points and Purvis nine.
But gradually, the Tigers’ Booker began to dominate the block. His production, coupled with a combined 10-for-31 shooting performance by Wood, Howell, Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, gave Clemson an opportunity to win late.
“We did some good things, but we did too many bad things by allowing them to make the comeback,” Howell said. “We weren’t consistent the way we need to be.”
For a team with impressive talent and a number of versatile players, the Wolfpack is still operating with a narrow error margin – the result of a short bench.
Other than Warren, only freshman guard Tyler Lewis and junior center Jordan Vanderberg played Sunday. Neither scored and the 7-foot Vandenberg didn’t attempt a shot or get a rebound in four minutes.
With 13 ACC games – eight on the road – still ahead, plus the postseason, bench production will become increasingly important. And for now and maybe straight through March, freshmen basically are the bench.
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