Howell, Leslie lead N.C. State to 80-63 win over Cleveland State

jgiglio@newsobserver.comDecember 9, 2012 

— It took a month, and two losses, but the N.C. State team everyone expected in the preseason showed up Saturday.

Big men Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie exploited a smaller Cleveland State team, newcomers T.J. Warren and Rodney Purvis added offense and energy, and point guard Lorenzo Brown put together a strong game on both ends of the floor in an 80-63 win over the Vikings.

“Every guy on our team is finally woken up now,” Brown said.

Maybe it took the second leg of a nostalgia tour or the early losses, but the 25th-ranked Wolfpack (6-2) hit its stride against the Vikings (6-3) early in Saturday’s win at Reynolds Coliseum.

Four days after playing in the Jimmy V Classic in New York, the Wolfpack went back to Reynolds, the on-campus home of its two national title teams. The preseason expectations were for this team to add a new chapter to Wolfpack lore.

Early losses to Oklahoma State and Michigan dropped N.C. State, the preseason pick to win the ACC for the first time in 38 years, from No. 6 in the national rankings to No. 25.

The Pack displayed the type of effort that it closed last season with, and really only had in its opening win over Miami (Ohio).

Three times during the postgame, second-year coach Mark Gottfried described the team as “unselfish” in Saturday’s win over the Horizon League foe.

Brown finished with six of the team’s 15 assists on 29 field goals. Brown also helped force Cleveland State guard Charlie Lee (15 points) into eight turnovers.

But it was the assertiveness of Leslie, the ACC preseason player of the year, and Howell that drove the Pack to Saturday’s win.

Leslie dominated with 19 points, on 7-of-8 shooting, with eight rebounds. Howell posted his third double-double in four games with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Both of Cleveland State’s starting forwards were listed at 6 feet, 7 inches tall, neither could stay within an arm’s length of Howell (6-8) or Leslie (6-9).

Howell attributed the improved effort to better practice habits.

“We took everything serious and we weren’t playing around and we weren’t just out there wasting time,” Howell said of the practices leading up to Saturday’s game.

Cleveland State, which won 22 games and made the NIT a season ago, led 11-8 at the 16 minutes, 14 second mark in the first half before Leslie scored seven straight points.

Purvis, who started for the first time in three games, provided a spark when he blocked Tim Kamczyc’s lay-up attempt at 6:15. Howell turned Purvis’ defense into two points in transition. The Pack’s ability to score on the fast break, 17 points in all, impressed Cleveland State coach Gary Waters.

“I don’t know how they would do if they were limited to their halfcourt offense, and I think they’ll have to prove that eventually,” Water said. “But they have so many good options running the break. That’s the best I’ve seen in the country in transition.”

Purvis, who had 11 points, and Warren, with 16 off the bench, hurt the Vikings the most in transition. Warren scored the final seven points of the half, the last two on tic-tac-toe pass from Leslie to Howell to Warren, to give N.C. State a 47-32 halftime advantage.

The Vikings got as close as 10 points in the second half when a 3-pointer by Lee at 13:51 made it 57-47. A 3-point attempt by Bryn Forbes on the Vikings’ next possession would have put game pressure on the Pack, but the shot didn’t fall.

Brown responded to Forbes’ miss with four straight points and then Howell knocked down a step-back, 12-footer from off the right block.

By the time walk-on Chase Cannon buried a 3-pointer for the Pack’s final three points of the game, the crowd of 7,234 at the Old Barn erupted.

“It’s a good win against a quality team,” Gottfried said. “For us, we’ve got to keep getting better.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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