College Basketball

Three points from N.C. State’s win against Pittsburgh

Three points from N.C. State’s 68-50 win against Pittsburgh on Saturday:

1) Trevor Lacey, Bus driver: Junior guard Trevor Lacey was back to his normal self against Pittsburgh on Saturday with a game-high 19 points after a subpar effort in N.C. State’s loss to Cincinnati Dec. 30.

Lacey was too passive in a 76-60 loss to the Bearcats, which was more troubling than his 1-for-8 shooting effort or the six points he scored. For N.C. State to be good, Lacey has to drive the bus.

The Alabama transfer is an unselfish player by nature, but he’s also a strong leader. That was clear in the second half against Pitt. The Panthers couldn’t hit water from a boat but only trailed 27-22 before Lacey got going.

Nearly every shot Lacey takes in a halfcourt set is difficult, given his propensity to shoot off the dribble, but he nailed a couple of daggers early in the second half, notably a jab-step, step-back number he popped in with 12 minutes, 49 seconds left, to leave no doubt who was in control of the game.

Lacey has more help than T.J. Warren did last season, but his understanding of being in charge is critical. It took Warren until the first week of February last season to truly take over the team.

Lacey is ahead of that curve, but he needed a reminder after the loss to Cincinnati. So did senior guard Ralston Turner, who had 16 points Saturday, after a three-game slump.

“Your best players have to play and they have to play well,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “This team needs Ralston and Trevor.

“It doesn’t mean they have to score every point in every game, we’ve got to get points from everybody, but your best players have to step up and play. They did today.”

2) Defense never rests: N.C. State has been a better defensive team this season than any of Gottfried’s previous Wolfpack teams. The Wolfpack’s not going to turn into some grind-it-out version of Virginia, Clemson or Miami any time soon, but it’s also better than the bullfighter effort by previous teams.

But N.C. State’s defense took a nap against West Virginia and stayed asleep for Cincinnati. That can’t happen, especially because this team needs to create points in transition (it had 17 on Saturday against Pitt). The only way to do that is to defend.

Twins Cody and Caleb Martin gave the Wolfpack some juice off the bench Saturday. Cody had two steals and a block in just 9 minutes. Caleb, as he has shown all season, loves to hustle and block shots from behind on the fast break. He got another one of those in the first half.

Pitt is by no means an accomplished offensive basketball team but N.C. State held the Panthers to 32.7 percent from the floor, which included nine attempts that N.C. State blocked.

3) Expanding the bench: With more minutes for Cody Martin, Gottfried expanded his bench as ACC play kicks into high gear. Most coaches go the other way when they get to conference play, but Gottfried felt like he had to do something different after the Cincinnati debacle.

There were two tough practices, with a lot of running and some screaming thrown in, but one of the things that jumped out to Gottfried was the effort of Martin.

“For the last two days, the way he played, he basically let his play say to me: ‘Coach, you better play me. I’m good enough. Play me, coach,’ ” Gottfried said.

Cody Martin has averaged 7.3 minutes in seven games. He didn’t play against Cincinnati or Wake Forest. Gottfried didn’t use senior guard Desmond Lee on Saturday but has used Lee, in a similar role to Martin’s on Saturday, earlier in the season.

Gottfried might have to figure out a way to consistently use nine or 10 players. His preference is to have a smaller rotation, but if there’s energy to be had from different sources on the bench, he might have to change his rotation habits.