BLACKSBURG, Va. — There’s a time to worry about perfecting end-game execution and getting better.
That time wasn’t Saturday for N.C. State.
T.J. Warren’s 31 points carried N.C. State to a no-nonsense, no-questions-asked 71-64 road win against the last-place Hokies.
After a pair of road losses, on opposite ends of the performance spectrum, N.C. State (17-10, 7-7 ACC) just needed to put another number in the left side of the standings.
Warren obliged with a prolific scoring effort, his sixth 30-point game this season. The sophomore drained his first two shots, both 3-pointers, against Virginia Tech’s soft zone and barely was slowed down the rest of the game.
Warren finished 12-for-21 from the floor with four steals and six rebounds in 38 minutes.
“It’s unreal how he can score the ball that easy,” said point guard Tyler Lewis, who finished with a career-best 11 assists.
N.C. State got out of Cassell Coliseum with a much-needed win but not before the Hokies cut what was a 15-point lead in the second half down to four in the final minute.
The Wolfpack aided the Hokies’ rally by fouling three times in the final minute.
“It was not on purpose,” Lewis said. “Thank goodness they were missing free throws.”
Virginia Tech got within 67-63 after freshman guard Devin Wilson free throw with 36.6 seconds left. Lewis made four free throws in the final 35 seconds to close out the game, despite the mental errors.
“Overall it was good, the fouls a couple of times late are something we obviously need to learn from,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
The Wolfpack, which lost 73-56 Tuesday at Clemson, wasn’t really in any danger of a loss before the final minute. Warren scored 10 of the Wolfpack’s first 13 points in the second half as they stretched the lead back out to 48-38, and the Pack led 61-46 with 7:23 left.
Virginia Tech (9-17, 2-12) got 14 points from senior forward Jarell Eddie but the injury-depleted lineup couldn’t continue its improved play from the previous three games.
The Hokies played Virginia and Pittsburgh tough, and sandwiched a win against Miami in between, but their zone had too many open spots in the middle and they couldn’t keep track of Warren or Lewis, who added eight points.
With an RPI in the 50s and without a win against a top 50 team, N.C. State is trying to play its way off the NCAA tournament bubble. After the losses to Syracuse and Clemson, Warren said the Pack had no room for error. The same applies to the next four games.
“Everything is important right now,” Warren said. “We just need to keep pushing for four more games.”