BAYAMON, Puerto Rico — Early foul trouble for Richard Howell almost always meant trouble for N.C. State last season. Given how much time Howell spent in foul trouble, that was a problem.
But when Howell went to the bench in the first 3 minutes of N.C. State's opening game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday, it turned out to be no big deal.
Freshman forward T.J. Warren came off the bench to lead the sixth-ranked Wolfpack to a 72-55 win over Penn State.
Warren scored a team-high 22 points, on 9-of-12 shooting, to pick up for Howell against an aggressive, but undersized Penn State team.
The Wolfpack (2-0) will play either Massachusetts or Providence Friday in the winners' bracket of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Last season, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried might have kept Howell in the game, after he picked up his second foul at 17:04 in the first half, or brought him back in before the end of the half, but Howell remained on the bench and the Wolfpack was fine.
"When Rich does foul, somebody has to help the team, luckily that was me," said Warren, who added a team-best eight rebounds.
Gottfried noticed the difference between his team's play without Howell, compared to last season.
"I was never forced to put Richard back in there, that was nice," Gottfried said.
With 12 points each in the first half from Warren and freshman guard Rodney Purvis, N.C. State led 35-26 at the half. Then N.C. State's veterans helped push the margin to as many as 26 in the second half.
Junior forward C.J. Leslie led an early charge in the second half with two straight field goals and an assist, to Howell, to stretch the halftime lead to double-digits.
By the time senior guard Scott Wood got out of a 30-minute funk, the Pack's lead ballooned to 60-36 at 9:58 in the second half.
Leslie finished with 14 points, 12 for Purvis, nine for Howell and eight for Wood.
"They've got a lot of guys," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "They're the No. 6 in the country for a reason."
And for the second straight game, N.C. State turned up its defensive pressure. Penn State guard Tim Frazier finished with a game-high 23 points but he didn't score in the first 13 minutes of the game and he needed 20 field goal attempts to get there.
N.C. State held the Nittany Lions to 3 of 19 from 3-point range and 16 of 41, Frazier and guard Jermaine Marshall were a combined 2 of 12.
"Defensively, at times, we were very good," Gottfried said. "And I think at times we're just a little bit disinterested. We've got to maintain our defensive intensity."
While Penn State struggled from the outside, N.C. State hit 8 of its 16 3-pointers. Last season, Wood was the primary threat from 3, but Warren made his first three 3s and Purvis made all three of his attempts.
"You think you took out their best players, or kind of contained them, and then you have Purvis and Warren doing that," Chambers said.
Wood knocked in two 3s, in a 2-minute flurry in the second half, but it was just icing on the cake of Warren's strong shooting effort.
"I just wanted to come off the bench and be productive," Warren said.
He did that and more, which is a Plan B the Wolfpack didn't have last season.
Giglio: 919-829-8938 or twitter.com/jwgiglio