RALEIGH N.C. State let a 16-point lead slip away at Wake Forest in January. C.J. Leslie wouldn’t let that happen on Wednesday night, not in the Wolfpack’s final home game of the season, not with the real season about to begin.
Leslie’s 19 points and 10 rebounds helped N.C. State throttle Wake Forest 81-66 for the Wolfpack’s sixth win in seven games and third straight at home by double-digits.
N.C. State closed out its home schedule with a 16-1 record, including an 8-1 mark in the ACC.
It was the final home game together for N.C. State’s veteran quartet of Leslie, Richard Howell, Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown. Howell and Wood were honored on Senior Night, and then Leslie proceeded to do the heavy lifting.
Leslie’s steal and alley-oop to Brown for a 49-28 lead at the 16:12 mark in the second half brought a big smile to Leslie’s face and a rare, celebratory fist-pump. It also prompted Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik to scramble for his second timeout in the first 4 minutes of the second half.
Wake (12-17, 5-12 ACC) beat N.C. State 86-84 on Jan. 22 in Winston-Salem. Freshman forward Devin Thomas put together one of the best all-around game in conference play with 25 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and four assists.
N.C. State players admitted after the game that they didn’t know too much about Thomas, but they were ready for him on Wednesday. Thomas didn’t score for almost 16 minutes and had only 2 points at the half. He finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Deacs erased a 16-point Wolfpack lead in the first meeting of the season, and led 14-9 on Wednesday, before the Wolfpack awoke from an early Senior Night slumber.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried implored his players to “get a stance” and crank up the defense, which is exactly what led to a decisive 19-2 in a 7-minute stretch in the first half.
Freshman forward T.J. Warren scored 9 points during the run as the Wolfpack took control of the game. Leslie scored 7 of the final 11 points of the half to give the Wolfpack a 39-24 advantage at the break.
Instead of letting Wake, which played without freshman guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (illness), back into the game, Leslie led a blitz to start the second half. Leslie’s dunk, on the Wolfpack’s first possession, inspired Bzdelik’s first timeout.
Leslie’s dunk, off a pretty feed from Howell, at 16:30 stretched N.C. State’s advantage to 47-28. The steal and alley-oop for Brown followed, and Wake wouldn’t get closer than 16 points until the final minute of the game.
Warren (15 points) and Rodney Purvis (14) helped Leslie with the scoring in the second half, while Howell and Wood finished with relatively quiet games. Howell, who was hampered by foul trouble in the first half, had 7 points and five rebounds, while Wood finished with 9 points.
The fans started a “We want Jay!” chant with 3 minutes left in the game, for senior walk-on Jay Lewis, and Gottfried obliged with a 2:06 left, which prompted a standing ovation for the exiting Howell and Wood. Lewis promptly buried a 3-pointer in transition on his first trip down the court.