Tudor: Jackets exploit Wolfpack's shallow bench

ctudor@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2012 

— N.C. State’s basketball team has been able to deal with its lack of depth most of this first season under Mark Gottfried, but that trend changed in a big, bad way Wednesday.

Against a Georgia Tech outfit that looked to be hopelessly thin when Brian Gregory opened his first Yellow Jacket camp in October, the Wolfpack got roundly outnumbered and outmanned in the RBC Center.

Four early fouls – two each by forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell – flipped a 26-21 Pack lead into a 40-29 halftime deficit and eventually a critical 82-71 loss.

State’s seven-player rotation was so exploited that the Yellow Jackets (8-8, 1-1 ACC) finished with a 27-5 bench scoring advantage.

Gregory was able to get at least six minutes of playing time from nine players.

“We’re not the deepest team around, but I thought we did a good job of staying after them,” Gregory said.

The most important play in the game may have occurred when Leslie was called for his second foul with 4:41 left in the first half and went to the bench. The Pack (12-5, 1-1) led 28-26 at that point, but didn’t get another field goal before intermission.

“We can’t let that be an excuse,” State’s C.J. Williams said. “We have enough good players to win games. We just have to respond better when we have some foul trouble.”

Early in the season, the Pack was getting enough help from subs Alex Johnson, DeShawn Painter, Tyler Harris and Jordan Vandenberg to survive. The addition of Thomas de Thaey after six games was viewed as a relative bonus.

But through the first two league games, only eight players have been used and de Thaey sparingly (six total minutes). While State starters were called for only 12 fouls Sunday in a 79-74 win, 18 were called Wednesday.

Leslie got in only 24 minutes and Howell 29. With the exception of Leslie’s free-throw shooting (4-for-8), both had productive statistical games.

But the lost minutes made it fairly easy for Tech’s big men to have unexpectedly big games.

With three road games hitting fast, the Pack will look back on Tech as a missed opportunity, and that’s even if the Yellow Jackets turn out to be the surprise team of the season.

It’s difficult to build depth in the midst of conference play, but that’s a challenge Gottfried will probably find unavoidable now.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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