RALEIGH — North Carolina State sophomore forward T.J. Warren is one of the most talented players in the country — when he wants to be. Sometimes it takes him a while to flip the switch on, but when he does, he makes the game look very easy.
In Saturday night’s 75-56 victory over Eastern Kentucky, Warren scored 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. His 26 second-half points were almost as many as Eastern Kentucky scored (29) in the final 20 minutes, and it was the second straight 30-point effort for Warren. He was the first NC State player with back-to-back 30-point games since Rodney Monroe did it against Virginia (32) and Tennessee (31) on Feb, 23 and 25, 1991.
“T.J. does what T.J. does,” said center Jordan Vandenberg (14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks). “It would be nice if he started earlier in the game, but we won and that’s the most important thing.”
Warren and the Woflpack (4-2) had a cold shooting first half (9 of 28 from the floor, 0-7 from beyond the arc) against Eastern Kentucky’s zone defense. NC State coach Mark Gottfried said his team was tentative, couldn’t get inside and penetrate as the Wolfpack trailed 27-21.
“In the first half, I tried to get everyone the ball,” Warren said. “In the second half, I got going. I was more aggressive.”
NC State came out aggressive, attacked the zone and outscored Eastern Kentucky (6-2) 9-2 in the first 2:38 of the second half to take its first lead (30-29) since early in the first half (7-6).
Warren and guard Anthony “Cat” Barber were the catalyst that got NC State going in the final 20 minutes. Warren hit two jumpers to start the half and Warren used his superior athletic ability to drive and score seven straight points to give the Wolfpack a lead it would not relinquish.
“I learned that taking control of the game is a big part of winning the game,” said Barber (12 points, 5 assists). “I didn’t do that in the first half.”
NC State then went on a tear in the final 10 minutes of the game to expand a 51-49 lead. Barber, Ralston Turner, Warren and a thunderous dunk by Desmond Lee pushed the lead 65-51 by the 3-minute mark remaining.
Both teams struggled to hit jumpers in the first half. Senior guard Glenn Cosey, one of the Ohio Valley Conference’s top players, struggled from the field (5 of 14, 14 points). He didn’t hit his first 3-pointer until there was 5:05 remaining in the half, which put the Colonels up by 10 (22-12).
NC State briefly led 6-5 on a dunk by Vandenberg 3:30 into the game. Over the next 12 minutes, the Wolfpack made only 3 of 17 shots from the field, yet only trailed 22-15 because the Colonials missed their share from the floor (5 of 17).
“The whole deal is you have to take care of the basketball and make shots, EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said. “We did a pretty good job in the first half. In the second half, we played the worst defense we have all year. Give NC State credit. They really attacked us inside.”
Eastern Kentucky dared NC State to shoot over its 2-3 zone and the Wolfpack struggled from beyond the arc in the first half (0-7, 2-14 overall). It scored 14 of its 21 points in the half from inside the paint, using its size advantage.
Gottfried said his team will see a lot more zone this season until they prove they can handle it and hit jump shots.
“We’re a lot better outside shooting team than we’ve shown,” Gottfried said. “We better get better or we’re going to have a lot of long nights.”
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