Leslie paces N.C. State to 92-73 win over St. Bonaventure

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 23, 2012 

— N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried swayed back and forth when the national anthem was being played Saturday, rising up on his toes in his fashionable loafers.

Gottfried appeared a bit on edge. The Wolfpack was about to play St. Bonaventure in its final game before the Christmas break, facing a quick, physical, athletic team from the Atlantic 10 Conference that took the Wolfpack to the buzzer last season.

C.J. Leslie’s last-second shot won that game for the Wolfpack. It wasn’t nearly as close this season – again because of Leslie.

The slender junior forward, alert and active from baseline to baseline, had a career-high 33 points as the No. 25 Wolfpack rolled to a 92-73 victory at PNC Arena. Leslie’s final numbers showed him 10 of 13 from the field and 13 of 18 at the foul line, with eight rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots.

That’s filling up a boxscore.

“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive,” Leslie said. “We have some important games coming up and we have to be a little more serious. I’m not saying I wasn’t serious before, but it’s just time to buckle down and be ready to play. I just saw I had to hustle and step up.”

Senior Scott Wood, who toyed with perfect shooting game, notched his season high with 23 points and junior point guard Lorenzo Brown had 11 assists as the Wolfpack (9-2) followed up a strong win over Stanford on Tuesday and stretched its winning streak to five.

“It makes for a much better Christmas to win, I can tell you that,” Gottfried said. “I think St. Bonaventure is going to be a really good A-10 team. They’re tough to guard. I think we beat a very good, solid team.”

But if Gottfried was impressed with the Bonnies (7-4), imagine how St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt felt. There was Leslie to defend. There was Wood hitting 3-pointers – and everything else. There was Brown running the floor and freshman T.J. Warren (13 points) making transition baskets.

Wolfpack center Richard Howell, who came into the game with four consecutive double-doubles, was in foul trouble and did not score for the first time since his sophomore season. But N.C. State, which leads the nation in field-goal percentage, knocked down 57 percent of its shots and put up 92 points with its leading scorer on the bench much of the game.

Leslie’s acrobatic baseline jumper with less than a second to play gave the Wolfpack a 67-65 win over the Bonnies last December in Rochester, N.Y. But Schmidt said he saw a deeper, more cohesive N.C. State team Saturday.

“To me they’re playing better, together, more unselfish,” he said. “They’re a year older. They understand. And they’ve got a couple of (future) pros on their team.”

Leslie’s previous scoring high was 24 points against North Carolina last season, but he had 18 first-half points as the Wolfpack spurted to a 44-33 lead at the break while also working hard on the defensive end.

On one play, Leslie forced a turnover, chased after the loose ball, then made a perfect lob pass to Brown for a dunk. Leslie’s concentration can waver at times but this game he was fully engaged.

Schmidt said when the Wolfpack had Leslie under the basket and Wood on the wing, on the same side of the court, it was an effective set – double trouble for the Bonnies. Wood made his first eight shots from the field before finally missing from the right wing midway through the second half.

Wood had hit three second-half 3s by then and the Wolfpack led 68-51. There would be no slippage as Leslie continued to score.

“He brought great energy and played really well,” Wood said. “Any time he comes out like that, I don’t think there’s anybody who can stop him.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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