GREENSBORO — After N.C. State’s ACC tournament win over Miami, Ralston Turner went with T.J. Warren to the post-game press conference.
The players were asked a question, the soft-spoken Warren looked to Turner for help.
That’s how it has been on the floor, too. While Warren has picked up N.C. State and carried the Wolfpack into the NCAA tournament, it has been the emergence of Turner that has made the difference in critical moments.
Turner, a junior transfer from LSU, had 22 points in the 67-58 win over Miami on Thursday. His 3-pointer with 2:26 against Syracuse on Friday put the Wolfpack up for good in that critical win, which likely clinched a spot in the NCAA field for the Wolfpack.
“T.J. can do a lot,” Turner said, “but we’re a better team when he gets help.”
Warren, a 6-8 sophomore from Durham, has been outstanding, especially since the start of February. The ACC player of the year has averaged 28.9 points per game over the past 12 games. Warren’s hot hand has helped lift the Wolfpack from the middle of the ACC race to the No. 12 seed in the Midwest region. N.C. State will take on Xavier, also a No. 12 seed, in a first round game in Dayton, Ohio.
Duke made Warren labor for 21 points on Saturday, but it was his 15th consecutive game with at least 20 points and school-record 29th of the season. Warren made an impression on Duke, despite its success in slowing the ACC’s top scorer.
“Warren’s a great player,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I mean, he’s not a good player, he’s a great player.
“He has had one of the special years that a player has had in our conference.”
But as good as Warren has been, winning ACC player of the year and the scoring title, Turner has been able to keep defenses honest from the 3-point line. Turner leads the Wolfpack with 72 3-pointers, only eight fewer than the rest of the roster combined. Turner has made 40 of his 3-pointers in the past 16 games.
It took an ankle injury to Warren to facilitate Turner’s return to the starting lineup. Warren turned his ankle in the Wolfpack’s loss at Duke on Jan. 18 and missed its next game against Maryland.
Turner, who sat out last season under NCAA rules, moved into Warren’s spot in the starting lineup and scored a season-best 23 points in a key 65-56 win over the NIT-bound Terrapins.
When Warren returned the next game, Turner stayed in the lineup and has been there ever since. Turner has averaged 11.5 points, second to Warren, over the 16-game span.
Turner’s biggest game with Warren in the lineup came in the 67-58 win over Miami in Greensboro. Warren had 24 and Turner had 22 points against the Canes, who had beaten N.C. State just 12 days earlier.
Turner made five 3-pointers against Miami. He had seven points in a critical surge in the second half as the Pack took control of the game. Miami coach Jim Larranaga even adjusted his team’s defense to accommodate for both Warren and Turner.
“Our intentions were to try to keep their best two players from hurting us,” Larranaga said. “We played a ‘triangle and two’ the whole second half, and they still ended up with 24 and 22, so their offense was better than our defense.”
The difference between N.C. State when Turner is hitting and when he’s off was evident on Saturday. Turner was 2 of 10 from the 3-point line in the loss to Duke. He had three 3-pointers that went in-and-out of the basket that could have changed the complexion of the game, including one after N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried called timeout and set up a play for Turner at the top of the key.
“Sometimes the shots don’t fall,” Turner said after the Duke loss. “I just hope I get another chance.”
N.C. State will in the NCAA tournament. For the Wolfpack to last past the opening round, both Warren and Turner will have to be on their games.