N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried wanted to see how his team would react after a lopsided loss.
He eventually got the answer he was looking for in the Wolfpack’s 73-63 win over Saint Joseph’s on Monday night in the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
About 10 minutes into the game, Wolfpack (4-1) was still sluggish from Sunday’s 112-94 loss to Creighton. The Hawks (3-2) jumped out to a 20-9 lead but then N.C. State’s defense, of all things, turned the game around.
N.C. State’s defense struggled against the Bluejays, giving up the second-most points in school history. But when the Wolfpack went to a matchup zone in the first half, it held the Hawks without a field goal for almost 9 minutes. The Wolfpack went on a 22-4 run and led 34-30 by halftime.
"I think we just started really slow," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "I don't know if it was because of last night's game (an 81-68 loss to Mississippi in the semifinals Sunday). We didn't have a lot of zip early. But around the 12-minute mark of the first half, we really started to play. We got going, started to execute and our defense was better. Our guys really responded."
The Wolfpack stretched its lead out to double digits, 50-37, with a 16-7 advantage in the first five minutes of the second half.
Freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. led a shorthanded Wolfpack lineup with 24 points and eight assists.
It was the third time in as many Paradise Jam games that Smith scored at least 20 points.
Sophomore guard Torin Dorn added 19 points, and junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu finished with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds).
The Hawks hung around with 23 points from junior guard Shavar Newkirk. They got as close as as six points four different times in the final four minutes but N.C. State had the answer each time.
The Wolfpack played again without sophomore wing Maverick Rowan, who suffered a concussion in the season-opener against Georgia Southern on Nov. 11.
Rowan did not play in any of the three tournament games in St. Thomas and has missed four straight games.
Freshman forward Ted Kapita also missed three games in the tournament. He did not travel with the team to St. Thomas due to an issue with his student visa.
Freshman guard Markell Johnson ate up Rowan’s minutes, and Gottfried essentially went with a six-man rotation. Johnson didn’t score on Monday but did have four assists.
The Hawks finished just 5-of-22 from the 3-point line, while N.C. State went 11-of-21 with five 3s from Dorn.