Ralston Turner, at the prime age of 23, winces when he uses the word "arthritis."
It just sounds old. College seniors aren't supposed to deal with such problems but the N.C. State guard has labored through the past two months with a consistent pain and swelling in his left knee.
With some extended time off of practice, and a lighter game schedule, Turner was healthy enough on Saturday night to lead N.C. State to a 69-53 win over Virginia Tech.
Turner scored a team-high 18 points and made four 3-pointers to help the Wolfpack (16-11, 7-7 ACC) win consecutive games for the first time since early December.
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"He looked like the old Ralston hitting shots," N.C. State guard Cat Barber said.
"Old" being the operative word, Turner joked. The fifth-year senior said his nagging knee injury is caused by arthritic symptoms. He's quick to defend his youth by pointing out it's not full-blown arthritis.
"It's good now that I'm starting to gain some progress," Turner said. "For awhile, that thing was pretty tough to handle."
N.C. State has only played four games in February. It had a week off since its win at Louisville and an eight-day break between a loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 3 and a home loss to Virginia on Feb. 11.
The extra time has helped Turner, the team's top senior, rest. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried has been cautious with Turner and held him out of several practices.
Turner finished 4 of 8 from the 3-point line and exceeded his scoring average (12.6 points per game) for the first time since a road win at Florida State on Jan. 17.
In the first six ACC games of the season, Turner made 43.1 percent of his 3s (22 of 51). In the seven games before Saturday, Turner had made just 29.7 (14 of 47) of his 3s.
"We need him to play well," Gottfried said.
N.C. State started Saturday's game against the out-manned yet hard-working Hokies (10-17, 2-12) by building a 30-14 lead with with 3 minutes left in the first half.
It looked like N.C. State would copy Duke and North Carolina from earlier in the day and cruise to an easy win.
Then the Hokies made 11 straight field goal attempts and cut N.C. State's lead to 36-33 at 17:18 in the second half.
Guards Justin Bibbs (19 points) and Adam Smith (15) handled the scoring for the undersized Hokies.
Turner hit a pair of 3s, freshman wing Caleb Martin buried two more and junior guard Trevor Lacey (14 points, six assists) got the Wolfpack's offense in gear.
A three-point game suddenly turned into a 14-point advantage, 57-43 for N.C. State, by Turner's 3 at 9:03 in the second half.
Gottfried was more apologetic than ecstatic after the game but it was the first time the Wolfpack had won consecutive games since beating Wake Forest (Dec. 6) and Charleston Southern (Dec. 12).
"We probably didn't play our best basketball for the whole 40 minutes," Gottfried said.
But Turner looked better than he has in a long time and the Wolfpack found a way in the second half to break the game open and avoid any RPI pitfalls.
"Overall, it ends up being a good win," Gottfried said. "This time of the year, you just have to get wins."
Sophomore forward BeeJay Anya gave N.C. State’s defense a lift against Virginia Tech’s smaller lineup in the second half. Anya finished with four points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes.
Sophomore guard Cat Barber banged his knee on a drive to the basket with 10:15 left in the first half. He was able to play 29 minutes, and added 10 points and four assists, but he wasn’t as sharp as he has been recently because of the knee.