It would have been easy for N.C. State to look past Pittsburgh on Wednesday night in the second round of the ACC tournament.
With Duke waiting, the Wolfpack could have lost focus, but Cat Barber wouldn’t let them.
The sophomore point guard scored a career-high 34 points to lead No. 7 seed N.C. State to a 81-70 win over No. 10 Pitt.
N.C. State (20-12) won for the sixth time in seven games to solidify its spot in the NCAA tournament field.
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The Wolfpack will get another shot at the second-seeded Blue Devils in Greensboro. Duke knocked them out of the tournament last year in the semifinals. N.C. State beat Duke 87-75 in Raleigh on Jan. 11, the teams’ only meeting this season.
The lack of focus that plagued the team earlier in the season, even as recent as 11 days ago, appears to be behind an energized Wolfpack squad.
Barber scored 21 points in the first half as N.C. State jumped out to a 37-23 halftime lead. Barber dazzled the pro-N.C. State crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum with an array of acrobatic drives. He also put on a 3-point shooting clinic.
Pitt (19-14) got as close as seven points, 50-43, in the second half, but Trevor Lacey (21 points) kept the Panthers at arm’s length.
Lacey threw an alley-oop to Abdul-Malik Abu and then hit a deep 3-pointer from the left elbow at 9:58 to stretch the lead back to 55-43.
Barber had an early eight-point burst, which posted the Wolfpack to a 16-8 advantage at 12:32 in the first half, and the Panthers were playing catch-up the rest of the way.
Barber made all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half and started 6 of 9 from the floor. His reverse layup with 22.3 seconds left in the half pushed N.C. State’s margin to 37-21.
The Panthers got 19 points from Cameron Wright but lost their fourth straight game.
Three things to watch vs. Duke
1) Encore from Anya?
Sophomore forward BeeJay Anya had a career game against Duke in the Wolfpack’s 87-75 win in Raleigh. Anya had 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks in 19 minutes and arguably outplayed Duke big man Jahlil Okafor.
Anya hasn’t hit double digits in points since that game, but he has been a steadying presence on defense as a rim protector. He might not need to score a ton on Thursday, but his defense will be needed to slow Okafor.
2) Barber’s hot streak
Sophomore guard Cat Barber was spectacular against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. He has been a force over the past 10 games by taking the ball to the basket and with a new-found 3-point touch.
In the first game against Duke, Barber wasn’t a factor with four points and four turnovers in 28 minutes. But Barber has been on another level since Jan. 31.
3) Lights are on, Tyus is on
Duke freshman guard Tyus Jones has played his best games in Duke’s biggest games. He clearly wasn’t engaged at N.C. State in January. He finished with four points on 1-of-6 shooting in 27 minutes in the Blue Devils’ 12-point loss.
Barber will be matched up with Jones and has a size advantage over him, but Jones has proven to be a gamer when Duke needs him the most.