RALEIGH — N.C. State needs to be better, coach Mark Gottfried said, than it was the last time it played.
At the very least, the Wolfpack will be healthier for Tuesday nights game with Florida Gulf Coast.
After missing the first four games of the season with an ankle injury, senior forward Jordan Vandenberg will play Tuesday, Gottfried said, against the Atlantic Sun team nicknamed Dunk City during last years NCAA tournament.
Vandenbergs expected return should provide a boost for a Wolfpack team coming off of a 82-72 overtime loss to N.C. Central six days ago.
The message Ive had to our guys is we have to keep getting better, Gottfried said. Weve had a lot of energy and weve talked a lot about being resilient and being able to bounce back. So far in the practice setting, our guys have done that.
Vandenberg returned to practice last Friday and, while not 100 percent, should help a forward rotation of three freshman who have collectively averaged less than 3.0 points per game.
Vandenberg, a 7-footer, has mostly been a reserve throughout his career but he slimmed down in the offseason and started to show promise before he turned his left ankle 5 minutes into the first preseason game on Oct. 30.
His size and length can help us, Gottfried said.
But Vandenbergs return wont be an instant fix. States loss to NCCU last Wednesday was marked by defensive breakdowns and foul trouble. The Eagles took 45 free throws, shooting guard Jeremy Ingram went to the line 21 times and finished with 29 points.
Its difficult because guys are still trying to figure out how games are going to be called, Gottfried said. We put a team on the line 45 times in a game that wasnt very physical.
Defending without fouling was a point of emphasis in practice since the NCCU loss. Adjusting to the way games are being called this season, with NCAA enforcing the rules about contact on and away from the ball has been a challenge for the Pack.
Its not just with us, but its how the game is being called and we have to adjust to it, junior guard Ralston Turner said.
Turner was one of four Pack starters to foul out against the Eagles. He was also the only State player to make more than one 3-point attempt. As a team, State was 3 of 20 from the 3-point line.
There were shots that we took that we normally make, Turner said. We just need to make sure we knock down more.
Florida Gulf Coast (4-1) presents another formidable challenge for a young Wolfpack team. The Eagles lost coach Andy Enfield after last seasons Sweet 16 run but still have guard Bret Comer and forward Chase Fieler.
The Eagles also have a history of beating ACC teams. They knocked off Miami, last years ACC champion, in an early season game on the road.
Gottfried, who prefers a challenging schedule outside the ACC, said his team has to get used to facing strong, experienced teams.
Were going to play against a lot of teams that are similar to the one that beat us in that theyre going to be veteran teams, Gottfried said.
You cant moan and groan about it, there are no excuses. Weve got to get ourselves better.