DAYTON, Ohio — N.C. States trip to Dayton for the NCAA tournament last year seemed like a sentence. Tuesdays jaunt to the First Four was more of a second chance.
The circumstances for the return to the southwestern corner of Ohio were different for the Wolfpack and so was the result.
With 25 points from sophomore star T.J. Warren, N.C. State beat Xavier 74-59 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The win moves the 12th-seeded Wolfpack (22-13) into the big bracket in the Midwest Regional. The Wolfpack will play fifth-seeded Saint Louis on Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
The emotion from Sundays selection show was almost enough to carry the weary Wolfpack on Tuesday night. N.C. State was the last at-large team put into the 68-team field by the selection committee.
Weve had a crazy 48 hours, said guard Ralston Turner, who added 17 points. We didnt know we were getting in but when we saw our name, we wanted to play the way we know we can and see what happens.
N.C. State made the most of the new lease on the season against the Musketeers (21-13), a direct contrast to last seasons round of 64 loss to Temple. Last year, in the same building, the Wolfpack started slow and its season, one that started with so much hope, ended in disappointment.
This Wolfpack team, coach Mark Gottfrieds third, has been building and getting better as the season has progressed. Warren, the ACCs player of the year, has shouldered the scoring load and taken ownership of the team.
He scored at least 20 points for the 18th straight game and a school-record 30th time this season. A 6-foot-8 sophomore from Durham, he also topped David Thompsons single-season scoring record.
Thats what you want as a coach; you want your team to keep getting better and I think we are getting better still, Gottfried said.
Warren took control of the game about four minutes into the second half. N.C. State led 39-37 with 16:06 left when Warren scored 12 of the teams next 18 points.
He hit his trademark runner, one from each baseline, on consecutive possessions and then muscled off of Justin Martin for a 14-foot fader from the middle of the floor.
Warren has 843 points for the season, which breaks Thompsons record of 838 from the 1974-75 season. Warrens dunk at 8:16, after a Tyler Lewis steal, started the Wolfpacks processional to victory. Then four straight points by senior forward Jordan Vandenberg, including an emphatic dunk at 4:13, all but fueled up N.C. States plane to Orlando.
Lewis played the entire second half and finished with seven points, eight assists and one turnover. The Musketeers had 13 turnovers and went 2 of 14 from the 3-point line, two key problems.
While Warren continued to sizzle, Xavier star Semaj Christon, who was his teammate at Brewster Academy in 2012, labored with 14 points. Big Matt Stainbrook, all 6-10 and 270 pounds of him, led the Musketeers with 19 points.
As strongly as Warren finished the game, it took him some time to get going. He picked up an offensive foul in the first two minutes and then his second at the 15:46 mark of the first half.
The Wolfpack didnt miss a beat without him. Turner had seven points in the first half. Freshman forward BeeJay Anya had a key sequence where he soared in for a putback dunk and then blocked a shot.
Guard Cat Barber, who was unable to play in the second half because of a fever and stomach illness, turned the block into a layup and Warren, who rested about 31/2 minutes, had a dunk in transition to give N.C. State a 24-14 lead at the 7:37 mark of the first half.
Stainbrook had 12 points in the first half to keep the Musketeers afloat. His layup at 2:22 cut the Wolfpacks lead to 27-26 but Turner hit a jumper, Warren made two free throws and Vandenberg had a three-point play to give the Wolfpack a 34-28 halftime lead.
N.C. State never trailed in the second half. The Wolfpack exited Dayton early Wednesday morning, in search of a bigger prize in Florida.
For us, its just lets keep on doing what were doing, Gottfried said.