For one game anyway, N.C. State had the answer for its biggest question this season:
Who’s going to replace T.J. Warren?
Actually, you can take your pick of a stars in Friday’s season-opening 93-58 rout of Jackson State.
There was sophomore guard Cat Barber with a career-high 25 points with six assists and six rebounds as an added bonus. There was also junior guard Trevor Lacey who poured in 22 points. As far as starts go, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried could not have asked for a better one from his starting backcourt.
Barber was philosophical about his scoring.
“Twenty-five is 25, I’m glad we won,” said Barber, whose previous scoring best was 22 points in a loss to N.C. Central. “It’s not good to have 25 and lose. Twenty-five is good but I’m not worried about it for real, I’m just glad we got the win.”
Gottfried has been clear since Warren was taken in the NBA draft lottery in June, that it will take a village to replace Warren’s ACC-best 24.9 points per game. Gottfried has also made it clear he expects Lacey to be really good. The Alabama transfer did not disappoint in his first game in a Wolfpack uniform.
“I felt good and the team kept coming to me and I let it go,” Lacey said. “They believe in me and I believe in myself and it was one of those days.”
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound combo guard scored 20 points in the first half and made three 3-pointers. Lacey and Barber combined for 36 points in the first half. As a team, N.C. State shot 58.6 percent from the floor and made 5 of 10 3-pointers to take a commanding 47-26 halftime lead.
Barber played with the confidence and poise Gottfried had hoped would come with an increased role and a year of maturity. Barber was stronger with the ball and smart with his shot selection.
What Barber did Friday night he only showed flashes of last season as a freshman when he split point guard duties with Tyler Lewis, who has since transferred to Butler. Barber’s speed with the ball and quickness were known quantities for Wolfpack fans. Lacey’s skill set was more of a mystery to most people this side of Gottfried.
Lacey averaged 11.3 points for Alabama in 2012-13 and led the team in assists (3.2 per game) and 3-pointers (62) but he sat out last season. He showed some rust in N.C. State’s only public preseason game last Saturday against Division II Queens but that was all gone by Friday night.
Lacey made seven of his first eight shots (after missing his first seven against Queens). He showed an ability to get to the basket but also hit from range. Perhaps most importantly for Gottfried, he showed a quick chemistry with Barber.
With N.C. State breaking off a game-turning 21-3 run, Barber hit Lacey on a cross-court pass in transition and then Lacey dropped the ball to sophomore forward Kyle Washington, who was fouled but made both free throws to give the Wolfpack a 34-13 lead at 4:29 in the first half.
That was in the middle of a Barber-Lacey flurry of plays. Lacey tipped a pass from the defensive end of the floor ahead to himself for a dunk. Then Barber followed with a 3-pointer and finally Barber had a steal and then a dish to Lacey for an easy basket.
More N.C. State players got into the act in the second half, a show of the Wolfpack’s depth. Washington added seven points and a game-high nine rebounds and senior guard Desmond Lee had nine points in 15 minutes.
“It’s a good start,” Gottfried said. “We’ll get better, but good start.”