RALEIGH — If N.C. State is feeling any pressure to live up to the preseason hype, the Wolfpack didnt show it in the first game of the season.
It looked like seven days had passed since N.C. States trip to the Sweet 16, not seven months. The sixth-ranked Wolfpack played with the same confidence it had last March in its 97-59 win over Miami (Ohio) on Friday at PNC Arena.
I liked the fact that this team kind of picked up where we were last year, a very unselfish team, coach Mark Gottfried said. Good first night and a good start for us.
Forwards Richard Howell (16 points and 10 rebounds) and C.J. Leslie (11 points, eight rebounds) led the old guard for the Wolfpack, which returns four starters from a 24-win team, while Tyler Lewis and T.J. Warren showed what the newcomers can do for State.
Lewis, a freshman point guard, had one stretch in the second half where he had five straight points and then a behind-the-back pass to Warren in transition for a dunk that brought the sellout crowd to its feet.
The lights were on and the popcorn was popping and theres people in the stands and its little bit different than practice or an exhibition game, Gottfried said. All three freshmen had some really nice moments. They looked very comfortable out there to me.
Ranked in the top 10 in the AP top 25 and picked to win the ACC for the first time since the 1974-75 season, there was and still is the question of whether the Pack can handle the pressure.
An explosive start by Leslie, which included a steal, dunk and blocked shot in the first 31 seconds of the season, answered any questions about whether the Wolfpack would believe its own hype or pick up where it left off last season, beating San Diego State and Georgetown in the NCAA tournament to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.
State led 7-0 and 21-8 before the RedHawks woke up. A 3-pointer by Will Felder at 10:45 pulled Miami within six points, 21-15. Howell got N.C. States offense going with some timely passes from Leslie. The two veteran forwards combined for 10 of the games next 12 points. Howells dunk, on a feed from Leslie, at 3:43 put the Pack up 37-20.
The newcomers took over in the second half as the Pack stretched its 19-point lead to 40 points. Purvis, who started, led the trio of McDonalds All-Americans with 16 points. Warren, who showed real chemistry with Lewis, finished with eight points. Lewis had six points and six assist in 15 minutes.
Sophomore Thomas de Thaey came in late and hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored 10 points in nine minutes as N.C. State almost hit the 100-point mark for the first time in eight years.