N.C. State’s problems on defense against Bucknell did not go unnoticed by coach Mark Gottfried.
The Wolfpack just had more offense, its best scoring game in 11 years, to cover up the defensive lapses.
The Wolfpack (5-3) got at least 20 points each from its three starting guards in a 99-86 win over Bucknell on Saturday. Maverick Rowan scored a season-high 27 points to bounce back from a subpar effort in a loss to Michigan while Cat Barber scored 24 and Caleb Martin added 21 in N.C. State’s highest-scoring game since a 100-66 win over East Carolina in November 2004.
“We’re not going to be able to out-score everybody,” Gottfried said.
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Gottfried called the 99 points “nice” but was concerned with a defensive effort that saw the Bison (3-5) shoot 51.6 percent and make 13 3-pointers. This only one game after Bucknell was 3 of 24 from the 3-point line in a road loss to Columbia.
“We have to be a lot better,” Gottfried said of his team’s defense. “We probably need to use our zone defense a little bit more.”
Gottfied went to a 2-3 zone after Bucknell took a 73-72 lead at 8:24 in the second half. The teams traded baskets and were tied at 75 with 7:23 to play when the Wolfpack got four straight defensive stops from its zone.
A 3 from Caleb Martin — set up by a drive and kick out from his brother Cody — was part of a 10-0 run that gave N.C. State all the momentum it needed to close out the Patriot League power.
Bucknell senior guard Chris Hass led all scorers with 29 points, and made seven 3s, but missed his last five shots. Zach Thomas added 25 for Bucknell, which hasn’t beaten an ACC team since 1961.
Rowan kept pace with Hass with four 3s and a 9-of-14 effort. The freshman wing was coming off a 1-of-11 effort, and a season-low 5 points, in Tuesday’s loss to Michigan.
How much of Saturday’s scoring outburst was about making up for the Michigan game?
“Everything,” Rowan said. “As a team and me personally, we had to bounce back from the loss and pull this win out.”
Gottfried had a hunch Rowan would respond the way that he did on Saturday.
“He gets to play against Michigan on national television and goes 1 for 11 and nobody hurts more than he does,” Gottfried said. “That was a tough one for him. You could tell with his competitive nature, ‘I’m coming back tonight.’ ”
Rowan didn’t let his confidence get shook from the Michigan game. He said he was disappointed but was eager to get back on the floor and prove he was better.
“Every good shooter has their off days and that was just an off day for me,” Rowan said.
N.C. State’s offense made up for its scoring problems against Michigan. The Wolfpack shot 54.4 percent for the game and was 61.5 percent in the first half.
Forwards Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu got into the act, too. Freeman posted a double-double with 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Abu finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Those two combined for two points against Michigan, which drew some critical words from Gottfried.
“I just took it as a challenge,” Freeman said. “We all took it as a challenge to come out here and do more.”
The next challenge for N.C. State is to improve defensively. Gottfried said the Wolfpack just needs to keep grinding it out. It was the second game in a row N.C. State allowed the opponent to shoot better than 50 percent and third time this season.
“My hope is that we can just keep getting better,” Gottfried said. “You have a vision of what you think your team can be. We have to get there. We’re not there but we’re going to get there.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio