RALEIGH — N.C. State got a win back Wednesday night at Tennessee, a team Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried had expected to be in the NCAA tournament conversation when he scheduled them.
The Wolfpack (8-2), winners of six in a row, cant afford to give the win away on Saturday against a dangerous and much-improved East Carolina team. Gottfried said his young team cant be content with a win against a major conference opponent.
What you have to do now is you have to come back and get ready to play again and show that youre consistent, Gottfried said. And show that youre good enough to handle success and play well, play hard and do all the same things we did at Tennessee.
The Wolfpack did a lot right in its 65-58 win Wednesday in Knoxville, Tenn. With a season-high 12 blocks and by holding Tennessee to 12.5 percent (3 of 24) from 3-point range, it was the Wolfpacks best defensive performance of the season.
A lot of players from 21 points from sophomore forward T.J. Warren, five blocks from freshman forward BeeJay Anya and seven rebounds from freshman Kyle Washington contributed in a lot of different ways, which is why Gottfried called it a team win.
The Wolfpack could not play much better than it did in building a 37-20 halftime lead and the way the Wolfpack responded to Tennessees run cutting the lead down to five points with 5 1/2 minutes to play was an encouraging sign, junior guard Ralston Turner said.
Still, Turner said, the Wolfpack has to keep working.
We played pretty good but theres always room for improvement, Turner said.
Gottfried has seen steady improvement from his inexperienced team since a 82-72 home loss to N.C. Central on Nov. 20. N.C. State has added senior forward Jordan Vandenberg, who had four blocks on Wednesday, and moved freshman point guard Cat Barber into the starting lineup since the N.C. Central loss.
N.C. States win against Tennessee moved the Wolfpack into the top 100 of the RPI (No. 98). The Pirates (10-2) are back at No. 161, because of their strength of schedule (No. 317). Four of East Carolinas 10 wins have come against Division II teams.
The Pirates have put up points in the process, regardless of the level of competition. Fourth-year coach Jeff Lebos team ranks No. 20 in the country in scoring (85.6 points per game) and put up a season-best 103 in Thursdays home win against Virginia Military Institute.
It was one of the Pirates two losses, at Duke on Nov. 19, which got Gottfrieds attention. The Pirates lost 83-74 at Cameron Indoor Stadium but it was a one-point game at the 7:13-mark of the second half and a one possession game at the 5-minute mark.
I thought they played really well there, Gottfried said of the Pirates loss at Duke. What jumps out at you is the way they score the ball. They score a lot.
The Pirates rely on the 3-pointer for their scoring. They rank 11th in the country 3-pointers made (101) and 17th in attempts (264). Senior guard Akeem Richmond leads the team with 49 3s and in scoring with 18.3 points per game.
While the Pirates have showed improvement under Lebo, who led them to 23 wins last season and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, they are 1-19 against N.C. State, the win was also the only ECU home game in the series.