After a three-game shooting slump, N.C. State forward Kyle Washington figured his best strategy would be the most basic.
“I wanted to be aggressive,” he said of his plan for the Syracuse game Saturday. “Play defense, rebound and the offense would come.”
Keeping it simple produced Washington’s best game of the season against the No. 1 Orange. N.C. State (16-9, 6-6 ACC) will need more of the same from the freshman big man Tuesday at Clemson and as it makes a push for the NCAA tournament.
Washington had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a season-high 37 minutes against a Syracuse frontcourt that features at least two NBA prospects in forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant.
After going 2 of 17 in the previous three games, the 6-foot-9 lefty made 7 of 11 field goal attempts against the Orange. He made a variety of shots, including a couple of face-up jumpers from 10 to 15 feet and a few aggressive drives to the basket through the teeth of Syracuse’s zone.
Washington’s recent struggles against North Carolina (0 for 8) and Miami (0 for 3), contributed to his motivation for Saturday’s game at Syracuse.
“I was just trying to show my worth,” Washington said. “Just trying to show that I can come through in big situations and that I belong when the lights are shining bright.”
N.C. State’s offense, the UCLA high post, is predicated on production from the bigs. Third-year coach Mark Gottfried had that the previous two seasons with forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, but a new group of post players has been inconsistent.
Washington’s double-digit scoring effort was only his second of the season (he also had 10 points against Missouri) and seventh between the group of Washington, Lennard Freeman, Jordan Vandenberg and BeeJay Anya.
Vandenberg’s 10 points in a loss at Wake Forest on Jan. 15, was the last time one of the post players scored in double digits.
Washington, who has started the past 11 games, has tried to contribute in other ways. He’s the most vocal player on the team, talking on defense and trying to encourage his teammates.
Gottfried loves Washington’s energy and the enthusiasm he brings on game days and in practice.
“Not one time do you feel like you have to say, ‘Kyle, you have to go harder,’ ” Gottfried said.
Washington can actually get a little too amped up during games, Gottfried said.
“There are times in timeouts, he’s got so much,” Gottfried said. “It’s like, ‘Kyle, Kyle, just take a deep breath.”
Gottfried said the real challenge for Washington is to be more consistent, not just with his energy but his production. Washington, who’s from Champlin, Minn., averages 4.6 points and 4.2 rebounds.
“He’s getting better,” Gottfried said. That’s what happens sometimes when you’re a freshman. The hardest thing for young players is to be consistent every night.”
Washington was encouraged by his play Saturday and the way the team hung with the first-place team in the ACC. He said his only goal going forward is the same as the team’s – make the NCAA tournament.
“We have to keep on working hard and stay focused because we’re trying to make it to the tournament,” Washington said.