Fairfield opened in a zone defense and stayed in a zone defense on Sunday against N.C. State.
That was fine with Wolfpack guard Terry Henderson, who made six 3-pointers and led N.C. State to a 99-78 win over the Stags.
“That’s how they want to play, that’s on them,” said Henderson, who finished with a game-high 25 points.
It wasn’t Henderson’s job to coach Fairfield, just to take advantage of its schematic generosity.
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“Teams have to pick their poison,” Henderson said. “Man-to-man, you better be ready to guard Dennis Smith Jr.”
Smith did just fine against Fairfield’s zone with five 3s of his own. He finished with 17 points and a season-high nine assists.
N.C. State (9-2) made 52 percent (13-of-25) of its 3s to carve up Fairfield’s 2-3 zone. The Wolfpack had assists on 25 of its 34 field goals.
“I thought our ball movement helped us get good shots,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
And after a series of close calls earlier in the season, N.C. State is gaining some momentum with its fourth straight win and second by at least 20 points.
“We’re starting to get a rhythm of how things should be,” said junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Henderson got into a rhythm early. He made four 3-pointers in the first 7 minutes of the game. As a team, N.C. State made 7 of its first 10 3s.
“I think that just kind of opened everything up,” Gottfried said.
N.C. State struggled some with Boston University’s zone back on Dec. 3. That was a four-point game, a 77-73 Wolfpack win, one of those survivor wins.
That was also before freshman forward Omer Yurtseven was eligible. In his second game, Yurtseven scored 12 points off the bench and had six rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes.
“Omer’s basketball IQ is on another level,” Abu said.
Abu got back closer to his normal form, too, after a mini-slump. He scored less than 10 points in wins over Loyola (Ill.), Boston and Tennessee State.
He built off of Thursday’s 11-point effort in a 97-64 win over Appalachian State. In addition to the 14 points, his nine rebounds on Sunday were the most he has had in six games.
Malik hadn’t played well, and today he was better,” Gottfried said. “He’s got to get a little confidence. We’ve got to get him back to playing a bit better.”
The Stags, who got 23 points from junior guard Tyler Johnson, had no answer for State’s size, but they were stubborn. They led 17-15 at 13:48 in the first half before N.C. State ripped off an 18-0 run to take control of the game.
Some defensive lapses helped Fairfield (5-4) get as close as four points early in the second half, after it trailed by as many as 17.
“I was upset at halftime when they came back and cut the lead to single digits,” Henderson said.
Instead of another close game, N.C. State made a 15-0 run, capped by Henderson’s 3 at 4:40, for a 90-65 advantage.
N.C. State was close to hitting 100 points for the first time in 12 years, but it had to settle for a tie with the most points during Gottfried’s six-year tenure. It was also the first time the Wolfpack had scored at least 90 points in consecutive games since the first two games of the 2005-06 season.
Fairfield had some moments on offense but finished 11-of-42 from 3 and shot 36.8 percent for the game.
“We’re playing better,” Gottfried said. “We’re defending better, scoring the ball better.”
All of which helps with the players’ confidence, but there are bigger games ahead.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio