Three Points from N.C. State’s 86-50 victory against Charleston Southern on Friday night at Reynolds Coliseum:
1. No Lacey, no problem
Freshman guard Caleb Martin didn’t find out he would be making his first college start until minutes before tip-off.
With junior guard Trevor Lacey sidelined with an ankle injury, Martin stepped in and led the Wolfpack with 17 points. All but two came in the first half when N.C. State jumped out to a 46-20 lead.
Martin made his first 3-pointer and then had a steal and dunk to kick-start the Wolfpack, which led 22-3 and 34-8.
With the win, N.C. State (8-1) improved to 14-0 at Reynolds Coliseum since 2002.
“I just knew I had to come in there and do my job and bring energy to the team,” Martin said. “I think I did well for my first game starting.”
Martin made his first five shots and started 6-of-7 from the floor. By the time his brother Cody subbed in for him at the 7:49 mark in the first half, the 6-7 wing had out-scored Charleston Southern (5-3) by himself, 15-10.
“He acted (as if) he had been in (the starting lineup) his whole life,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said.
N.C. State hasn’t reached the same reliance level on Lacey as it had on ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren last season, but Lacey has been State’s best player through the season’s first two months.
Lacey is averaging a team-best 16.8 points per game with 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game to boot.
But Lacey turned his right ankle in practice Wednesday and was wearing a black brace in warmups and moving gingerly.
“(He) probably could have played a little bit, but I thought he would have been very ineffective,” Gottfried said. “We decided to hold him out.”
Gottfried said he was hopeful the extra rest would help Lacey be able to play Sunday against Wofford.
“Of course we missed Trevor, but we just had people pick up slack,” Caleb Martin said.
Martin had help. Senior guard Ralston Turner added 17 points and four assists, and sophomore guard Cat Barber had 14 points and seven rebounds.
2. Thumbs up for Abu
Freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu had 12 points in the previous four games before scoring 11 Friday night.
The transition from one of the best high school big men in the country to ACC contributor has been slow for Abu, but not for a lack of effort or talent.
He had shown flashes before Friday’s game but had not turned in as complete of an effort as he did against the Buccaneers.
Gottfried has always been bullish on Abu’s potential, and he has been pleased with his on-court progress.
“I just think he’s going to get better and better as we go along,” Gottfried said.
In a 36-point win, Abu also authored what was one of the few mistakes for N.C. State, a missed alley-oop dunk at 12:15 in the second half.
“The whole year I’ve been dying for an alley-oop,” Abu said. “When I saw the break, I thought, ‘This is it.’
“Then Cat threw it, great pass, and I just jumped. I felt like my momentum pushed me a little bit too close to the rim. I jumped high, and I didn’t know where the rim was. By the time I looked down, I just tried to like do something.”
Abu missed the dunk, which drew a hands-up, “What was that?” from Gottfried on the sideline. On the same possession, Abu got the ball back and made a layup. As Abu ran down the floor, he gave Gottfried a thumbs up.
“He’s like that everyday,” Gottfried said. “He’s always smiling.”
Abu did get another crack at an alley-oop. At 7:16, he caught the lead pass from Barber cleanly and dropped it through the rim, almost David Thompson-style when the dunk was illegal.
Abu said he was extra careful with the second chance.
“I just got it in my head, ‘OK, I don’t want to ever miss another oop,’ ” Abu said.
3. Important minutes for Lee
Senior guard Desmond Lee played a season-high 22 minutes and finished with nine points and three assists.
Lee had to play the point, not his usual role, with Lacey sidelined and Barber in early foul trouble.
Lee, who started 19 games last season, has had a different, diminished role this season. He didn’t get off the bench in N.C. State’s games with Boise State and Purdue. He somehow managed to foul out in four minutes in the Wolfpack’s victory last Saturday against Wake Forest.
But when N.C. State needed Lee on Friday, he delivered.
“Des was fantastic,” Abu said. “Like all of us, we’re just waiting for our opportunity to help the team, no matter what it is. Des came in there and showed his senior leadership.”
Gottfried was especially pleased with Lee’s defense on Charleston Southern’s Saah Nimley, who finished with nine points, seven off his season average.
“To his credit, (Lee) hasn’t gotten down,” Gottfried said. “I thought he was ready to go tonight, and he did well.”
With the ACC grinder three weeks away, N.C. State is likely to need some help from a veteran such as Lee. His best performance of the season will help his confidence, Gottfried said.
“It’s something he can build off of,” Gottfried said. “Our team needed him tonight, and he did a great job.”