ACC Tournament: Howell leads N.C. State past Virginia Tech
GREENSBORO — N.C. State’s warmup shirts told them to rise to the occasion.
The Wolfpack took the suggestion to heart in their introduction to Thursday’s ACC Tournament and first-round clash with Virginia Tech.
State washed away a forgettable effort at Florida State in the regular season finale and thwarted the Erick Green-led Hokies in a 80-63 victory to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round against Virginia. Richard Howell hit on 11 of his 13 shots and scored a game-high 22 points on top of grabbing 12 rebounds. State (23-9) showed it still had enough to win comfortably against last-place Virginia Tech, who took it to overtime in Raleigh in the first meeting.
Lorenzo Brown played swarming defense on Green in addition to dishing out 12 assists. Brown, who played with his pinkie and thumb fingers taped, said his ankle that was hurt in January was at about 90 percent.
“Lorenzo, defensively, was really locked in,” State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I also thought our team did a much better job of helping him. We didn’t do that last time.”
The preseason top-10 pick lost to FSU last weekend to lose the conference’s No. 4 seed and foregoing a first-round bye. Like last year’s conference tournament, a more focused squad emerged and maintained a business-like demeanor.
The nation’s leading scorer was kept in check as Green, voted the ACC’s Player of the Year this week, was just 5-of-19 from the field in his final game for 15 points. Brown said he got a call from a friend who told him he heard he couldn’t play defense Wednesday night. He nixed that notion emphatically.
“He’s the same height as me and I was able to read his moves a lot,” Brown said. “Our guys did a great job helping me off the screen and I had to fight my way through the screens.”
C.J. Leslie added 15 points as State shot 53 percent for the game. Leslie added seven rebounds for State, who outrebounded VT 40-25.
The Wolfpack put it away with a 11-0 run that started on a trey from T.J. Warren to it 51-42 and followed that up with a one-handed slam from Howell in transition. The run helped State lead by double digits the rest of the way.
“We do have to rise to the occasion,” Howell said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us playing tomorrow and hopefully Friday through Sunday.”
NCSU led 38-32 at halftime as VT (13-19) hung around by shooting 50 percent in the first half. Jarrell Eddie led the way for the Hokies with 21 points.
State’s first half was highlighted by Brown and Howell. Brown keyed a pullaway sequence on an alley oop to T.J. Warren and immediately collected a steal and threw it to Leslie, who finished with a two-handed dunk to put State up 34-27 at the under-4 timeout.
Brown opened the second-half scoring with a three-pointer but Eddie pulled Tech within 48-42 on a jumper. State then started hitting its shots and VT went 5:46 without hitting a field goal. Green scored 29 points in the first meeting but struggled to get open Thursday.
“You have to give all of the credit to N.C. State,” Green said. “I saw a lot of double teams and they were staying with me off the pick and rolls. They had a great defensive plan and we did not put a good 40 minutes together.”
The Wolfpack scored the first six points of the game off layups from Howell and a jumper by Leslie. The Hokies scored the next seven as Green capped the run with a trey. Another Green 3 several minutes later gave VT its biggest lead at 12-8.
Howell’s sound first-half climaxed on a jumper to give State the lead and a steal and ensuing layup on the following possession.
“I thought Richard was, as he always is for us, Mr. Reliable, Mr. Dependable,” Gottfried said. “He’s there every night getting rebounds.”