NC State knocks off Virginia Tech 71-64

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Like many college basketball teams this time of year, NC State finds itself desperately trying to play its way on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Thanks to star forward T.J. Warren, the Wolfpack didn’t see the bubble pop on Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Warren scored at least 30 points for the sixth time this season, amassing 31 points to help NC State hold off the Hokies 71-64 in what many termed a “must” game for the Wolfpack’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

“This one was very important,” Warren acknowledged. “Every game is important right now. We’ve got four more games. We’ve got to keep pushing.”

Warren, the ACC’s leading scorer at 23 points per game coming in, connected on 12 of 21 for the Wolfpack (17-10, 7-7 ACC), who snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Hokies for the fourth straight time.

Warren got off to a quick start, hitting 3-pointers on the Wolfpack’s first two possessions of the game, as NC State never trailed. He hit 7 of 10 from the floor in the first half, scoring 17 of the Wolfpack’s 35 first-half points and helping NC State to a 35-25 halftime lead.

Warren’s first-half barrage prompted Virginia Tech coach James Johnson to scrap his 2-3 zone midway through the second half. The Hokies played a triangle-and-2 on Warren and guard Ralston Turner, but even with that, they only slowed Warren, not stopped him. He scored 14 points and hit 5 of 11 from the floor in the final 20 minutes.

“From the start, I felt good,” Warren said. “I was warmed up and ready to go. I just wanted to be aggressive from the start. There were some open spaces in their zone, and I just attacked it. I hit a lot of floaters and mid-range stuff. That was working for me.”

“He was a difficult matchup in there,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said. “He moved around a lot, and we had a tough time of finding him and keeping a pulse on him in the first half. We did tighten up a little in the second half, but he leads the league in scoring, and he scores a lot of different ways.”

NC State led 61-46 after two free throws by Turner with 7:21 left in the game. But the undermanned Hokies - Virginia Tech played without starting guard Ben Emelogu and reserve center Cadarian Raines, both nursing ankle injuries - scrambled back into the game late, using a 17-6 run to cut the lead to 67-63 on two Devin Wilson free throws with 36 seconds remaining.

Tyler Lewis pushed the lead to 68-63 for the Wolfpack after he made the first of two free-throw attempts with 34 seconds to go, and after Virginia Tech’s C.J. Barksdale missed an open 3-pointer, Lewis made one of two again from the free-throw line with 22 seconds left to give the Wolfpack a 69-63 lead. Lewis’ two free throws with 12.8 seconds left iced the game for NC State.

“We had two really good practices after a really bad game at Clemson (a 73-56 loss on Tuesday), and it carried over into (Saturday),” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I thought our energy level was really high. We were aggressive. We got off to a good start, and I thought that was important.

“I’m really proud of our team. We’ve got 17 wins. We’re hungry. We’re playing a game on Wednesday (against North Carolina), and I’m sure people are expecting us to get beat by 20 or 25. This is the classic David and Goliath. But our guys are going to be excited about the opportunity to upset the hottest team in America. It’s going to be fun.”

Lewis, who moved back into the Wolfpack starting lineup four games ago, scored eight points and played a tremendous floor game, handing out a career-high 11 assists and not turning the ball over in 36 minutes of action.

The Wolfpack also got a solid game from freshman Kyle Washington, who scored 13 points and made NC State’s only basket in the final four minutes. He had scored in double figures just twice all season.

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