Wolfpack's Howell inspires basketball teammates

lkeeley@newsobserver.com December 15, 2012 

N.C. State's Richard Howell (1) drives to the basket as UNC Asheville's D.J. Cunningham (33) defends during the second half of N.C. State's 82-80 victory at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Friday, November 23, 2012.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

— Wolfpack players have a specific verb to describe the recent performance of Richard Howell. It’s not in the dictionary, but it was the automatic descriptor used by C.J. Leslie when asked about his teammate.

Beasting.

“He’s like a man, a manchild,” Leslie said of Howell. “Everyone is proud of what he’s doing. He’s beasting is how we call it.”

During the Wolfpack’s last four games, Howell, a soft-spoken, 6-foot-8 senior, has recorded three double-doubles. He’s averaging 16.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game over that span. And he will look to continue that streak as No. 25 N.C. State (6-2) returns to the court Saturday against Norfolk State (6-6) at 7 p.m. in PNC arena. It’s N.C. State’s first game in seven days, as the team spent last week taking final exams and practicing when possible.

Before the break in game action, the Wolfpack had put together one of its most complete performances of the season in an 80-63 win over Cleveland State. Howell had 17 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. Perhaps equally as important, though, he recorded just one foul.

Last season, Howell consistently found himself in foul trouble, and he fouled out in both of N.C. State’s losses this season. After fouling out of the 79-72 loss at No. 3 Michigan with 5:57 left in the game, Howell recorded one foul in the Wolfpack’s next two games. He averaged 32 minutes and 15 points and 10 rebounds in those contests.

“The biggest key for Richard has been his ability to stay in the game and not get saddled with foul trouble,” head coach Mark Gottfried said. “I think he’s a different player, obviously, when he stays in the game. We’re a different team if he ends up with one or two fouls early in the game.”

Howell said the key for him is slowing the game down and taking it piece-by-piece. He has to pick his spots and remember that he’s not the type of player that should be trying to block a jump shot 15 to 20 feet away from the rim. He’s much more valuable around the basket, where he leads the team with an average of 8.4 rebounds per game.

“Coach always tells Rich to stop swiping down,” point guard Lorenzo Brown said. “That’s how he always gets his fouls, he swipes down at the ball. That’s a big factor, staying out of foul trouble.”

Because Howell has been focusing on rebounding, he has put himself in a position to collect errant shots and convert them into points. By consistently taking and making close range shots, he has a shooting percentage of .681, tops in the ACC, and he leads the Wolfpack with an average of 14.4 points per game.

All of this is possible when he avoids the early fouls.

“It definitely is harder to play with fouls,” Howell said. “Especially when you’re the one who does the dirty work down there rebounding and playing defense. You just kind of have to back away from that and not be as aggressive and learn when to go for the rebound hard, know when to play defense hard and when to back up.”

The key to avoiding foul trouble, according to Leslie, is taking the first few minutes of the game to judge what the referees will and won’t allow.

“Different refs call different styles of the game,” he said. “You’ve got to know when to back off and when to be more aggressive.”

Howell is getting better at that, Leslie said.

“He still has a lot more to improve,” Leslie added with a laugh. “Undoubtedly, both of us do.”

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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