Abdul-Malik Abu blocked a shot at the Cal State-Los Angeles foul line to start a fast break for N.C. State.
Abu sprinted down the floor and finished the break with a crowd-pleasing alley-oop from Cody Martin.
That was only 3 minutes into N.C. State’s 71-54 preseason win on Sunday afternoon but the sophomore forward made it clear he will have a bigger role this season for the Wolfpack.
Abu scored 17 points to go with nine rebounds and four blocked shots to help the Wolfpack win its only warmup for the 2015-16 season, which begins for real on Friday against William & Mary.
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“You’re going to see a lot of Malik scoring the ball inside,” junior point guard Cat Barber said.
And a lot of Barber from the outside, too. Barber led all scorers with 21 points and added six assists for the Wolfpack, which has to replace three of its top four scorers from last year’s Sweet 16 team.
Abu was aggressive against Cal State-Los Angeles, a Division II team, and showed a strong post game from the low block. He made 6 of 12 field goals and was 5 of 6 from the free-throw line.
Last year, Abu averaged only 6.4 points per game, although he did have his standout scoring moments, notably with 13 points in the NCAA tournament upset of Villanova.
“Last year I was a freshman, I was nervous,” Abu said. “I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. This year I want to be aggressive.”
Abu got after it on both ends. After Cal State-Los Angeles cut N.C. State’s lead to 22-15 at 8:50 in the first half, Abu had a dunk to revive the Wolfpack.
Abu also had another blocked shot which led to a transition 3-pointer for Barber, who finished 8 of 14 from the floor.
Even with Abu’s impressive start, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said there’s more work to be done.
“It’s interesting, Malik had 17 points and nine rebounds yet I would say he played just OK,” Gottfried said. “I think he can really play a lot better.”
N.C. State led by as many as 24 in the second half. At one point, Barber hit a knifing layup and then tried to steal the ball near midcourt. He went flying into the stands and over the scorers’ table.
“I was just trying to make a play,” said Barber, who emerged unscathed from the hustle play.
Gottfried, who has led the Wolfpack to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, winced when Barber went flying. The fifth-year coach got “a little nervous” on that one.
“He didn’t play a whole lot after that,” Gottfried joked.
With Barber on the bench, Gottfried addressed one of the main questions for this N.C. State team – who’s backup point guard? Sophomore wing Cody Martin ran the offense for an extended stretch in the second half.
Martin, who started with his twin brother Caleb, finished with four turnovers but added five rebounds in his versatile role as a power forward and a point guard.
West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson also started and had five points, four rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes in his first game in an N.C. State uniform. Neither Henderson (0-4 from 3) nor freshman Maverick Rowan (2-6 from 3) could find a rhythm from deep.
There’s still a whole season in front of the Wolfpack to figure it out. If Sunday’s win was any indication, though, Barber and Abu will be relied on to carry the load.
“This was good,” Gottfried said. “They’re not a bad team. We’ve scheduled good teams, like William & Mary, … and today was a good help for that.”