My friends, our nightmare is over. NC State ended its five-game ACC losing streak on Tuesday night in emphatic fashion, beating Pittsburgh, 78-61. Cat Barber led all scorers with 31 points, and was a perfect 14-14 from the free throw line to help State salt the victory away.
|Four Factors||NC State
|Off Reb Rate||39.4||23.3|
The Wolfpack came out shooting well, in a stark departure from pretty much every game preceding this one, and had a double-digit lead about eight minutes into the game. NC State would never lead by less than 10 the rest of the way. Let that sink in for a minute.
Cody Martin got off to a quick start at both ends of the floor, as did Malik Abu. NC State did a fine job of rebounding at the defensive end, making certain that the cold-shooting Panthers couldn't bail themselves out. Cat did the usual Cat things, and Maverick Rowan hit his first three-point attempts, no doubt boosted by the friends and family in attendance. (Not to mention the constant boos from the Pittsburgh crowd.)
Barber was there when State needed him, but really the difference in that opening 20 minutes was the support elsewhere--the support Barber has needed all year. For an extended period, State looked cohesive and confident, and it paid off on the scoreboard. The Pack led by as many as 28 in the first half.
The Panthers were bound to make a run in the second half, and they did. You can only contain an outstanding offense for so long. And State's offense was bound to revert a bit back toward its average shooting percentage, and it did. But the Pack didn't let Pittsburgh rally to a point where the Panthers could take the next step. NC State made enough baskets in the second half to keep Pitt at arm's length, hitting the Panthers with enough demoralizing blows to prevent something crazy from happening.
Abu and Rowan joined Barber in double figures, and Lennard Freeman finished the night with a game-high 14 rebounds. BeeJay Anya had some moments of brilliance, including a nifty spin move for a dunk during the first half. The front court played a solid game, all things considered, and it made a significant difference. Keeping Pitt's front line off the offensive boards in this contest was huge.
So NC State got perhaps its best overall team effort of the season in Pittsburgh. It's reason to feel like the Wolfpack can turn this year around, at least a little bit--but we don't need to concern ourselves with the larger picture tonight. We won tonight, which is enough.