Pack Shows Improvement in Exhibition Win Over Morehouse

USA TODAY Sports

Apparently trick-shot practice was cut back in favor of extra work at the charity stripe.

In the absence of center Jordan Vandenberg, who will be out at least a month after sustaining an ankle sprain in the team's first exhibition, N.C. State turned to a small lineup in its second exhibition. Guard Desmond Lee replaced Vandenberg in the starting lineup, pushing T.J. Warren from the wing to the four and Kyle Washington from the four to the five. The lineup change was effective, albeit against D-II Morehouse, as Lee scored 13 points and Washington just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine boards in the 87-62 Pack win.

After struggling to put UNC-Pembroke away in its opener due to missed free throws (57.5% from the line) and atrocious rebounding (-11), State showed marked improvement in both measures against the Maroon Tigers, draining 76% from the line and finishing +2 in rebounding margin. Warren finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds in both exhibitions and appears poised to breakout as the go-to guy in his sophomore campaign. The ACC's leader in field goal percentage as a freshman, Warren has shown no sign of decreased efficiency with higher usage, making 21-of-31 shots (67.7%) in the two exhibitions.

The problem for the Pack will be where, besides Warren, will offensive production come from. The shooting guards are doing their part. Ralston Turner had 11 in game two after scoring 20 in the opener, and Lee's 13 against Morehouse followed a 16-point effort against Pembroke. Combined, the guards have knocked down five of 10 three-point attempts.

McDonald's all-American point guards Tyler Lewis and Cat Barber will share the floor in some three-guard looks but appear to be locked in a head-to-head battle for the keys to the offense. Both played 26 minutes against Morehouse. Lewis managed just 11 points combined in the two exhibitions but had 19 assists to just four turnovers. Barber offers more scoring (12.5 ppg in the two exhibitions) and more quickness defensively, but he managed just an 8-7 assist-to-turnover ratio in the preseason tune ups.

Regardless of how the minutes are distributed, Barber, Lee, Lewis, and Turner give the Pack depth on the perimeter. Inside, it's a different story. Washington has shown promise in the exhibition phase, stepping up from eight points and just four boards in the opener to his near double-double in the second game. But fellow freshperson posts Lennard Freeman and BeeJay Anya have had less impact. Though he got six more minutes of floor time than Washington, Freeman managed just six points and nine rebounds total in the two exhibitions. Freeman was never expected to score much, but he has to do a better job on the glass. Anya, who has been routinely panned for coming in out of shape, managed just four points and one board in 14 minutes of exhibition action, though he did swat three shots. The Pack will need one of the two to contribute meaningful minutes behind Washington, especially in the absence of the Big Aussie.

Who knows how significant exhibition results are against D-II opponents. For what it's worth, the Maroon Tigers won 14 straight at one point last season during a 20-win campaign, so they appear to be decent competition by D-II standards. Pembroke won 22 last year but was picked to finish fifth in its conference. The Braves also got beaten by UNC much more soundly than they did by the Pack even though the Tar Heels played without P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald, and J.P. Tokoto due to their NCAA woes. Jim Mike Mac and the rotund Kennedy Meeks were the only double-figure scorers for a UNC team that struggled offensively (43.8% shooting), but the Heels owned a +22 advantage on the glass. As noted above, the Pack were outrebounded by 11 against the Braves. This is troubling.

The Pack buried nearly 60% of their shots in the opener and 54.5% in the second scrimmage, so it looks like a fun-and-gun, efficient offense this season. It's also encouraging that the Pack cut the turnovers from 16 in game one down to 10 against Morehouse. Regardless of how good the offense turns out to be, getting stops and rebounds will ultimately decide the Pack's fate this season, so it's nice to see the progression from the Braves' 43% shooting to the Tigers' 39% effort as well as the huge turnaround from game one to game two on the boards. Still, +2 against a D-II team, while way better than -11, would not seem to bode well once the Pack play games against better competition.

The games start to count Friday when the Pack welcome Appalachian State to the PNC for the season opener at 7 p.m. And by welcome I mean I hope they turn the AC down to 50 in the Mountaineers' locker room, feed them a salmonella-laced pregame meal, and slash their bus tires at halftime. It's the least State can do after ASU coach Jason Capel accused Mark Gottfried of tampering in the Devonte Graham hostage situation.

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