Poor defense is a good recipe for long practices.
N.C. State went into its semester break for final exams off of two subpar defensive performances. The Wolfpack allowed its previous two opponents to shoot better than 50 percent.
So the seven-day stretch on the schedule without a game was predictable.
“It was back to basics,” N.C. State forward BeeJay Anya said. “How to get into a defensive stance, cutting guys off and making people score over us and not letting them get around us.”
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In a 65-46 road win over South Florida on Sunday, the boot-camp treatment paid off for N.C. State. The Wolfpack (6-3) held the Bulls to 29.5 percent shooting and forced 14 turnovers.
Anya scored a career-high 17 points and blocked five shots. The Wolfpack also had a 51 to 41 rebounding advantage, including a season-high 22 offensive rebounds.
Sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu added 11 points and 14 rebounds for N.C. State, which shot just 3 of 21 from the 3-point line but had a 32 to 18 advantage in points in the paint.
“We’ve been talking about it a long time; we’re a lot better when our team gets scoring out of our post players,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “BeeJay was terrific. He was aggressive, he made good offensive moves and he wasn’t in a hurry.”
Anya’s spin move and layup at 7:39 in the second half gave the Wolfpack its largest lead, 53-25. Anya, who was fouled on the shot, hit a free-throw for his second three-point play of the game. The junior’s previous career best was 14 points in a home win over Duke last season.
“My teammates have confidence in me and they told me to go to work and that’s what I did,” said Anya, who added seven rebounds.
South Florida (2-8) had no answer for Anya inside and couldn’t get into the same shooting rhythm Michigan (50 percent) or Bucknell (51.6 percent) did against N.C. State’s perimeter defense. The Bulls came into the game ranked No. 346, last in Division I, in 3-point percentage and went 2 of 12 from 3 and finished 18 of 61 from the floor for the game.
Gottfried said the emphasis in practice has been on getting better defensively and brushing up on the fundamentals.
“We’re not trying to get too cute or do things we can’t do,” Gottfried said. “We just have to learn how to play solid defense.”
N.C. State needed a standout defensive effort to offset its own shooting struggles. The Wolfpack finished 25 of 68 (36.8 percent) from the floor. But South Florida made that percentage look palatable, especially in the first half.
With 11 of Cat Barber’s game-high 19 points in the first half, N.C. State took control of the game while USF was just 5 of 28 from the floor (17.9 percent).
Barber fueled a 15-5 run with eight points to close out the first half and post the Wolfpack to a 35-15 lead. The second half turned into a dunk contest for Abu, who had three in the second half and four in the game.
“It was fun, I just fed off the energy of BeeJay and Cat,” Abu said.
After a two-game dip in production, Abu has gotten back on track with 11 points and 9 rebounds against Bucknell last Saturday and 11 and 14 against the Bulls on Sunday.
“I’m just trying to stay aggressive and confident,” Abu said. “It’s still early. Hopefully, I’m at my best when my best is needed at the end.”
The same can be said for N.C. State’s defense and it was at its best on Sunday when the Wolfpack needed it most.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio