N.C. State has missed Trevor Lacey this season. Cat Barber did his best impersonation of Lacey on Wednesday night.
Barber’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Wolfpack a dramatic 76-73 home win over High Point.
The clutch shot, off of a step-back dribble and with a defender in his face, was exactly the kind of play Lacey made look routine last season.
“I felt like Trevor,” said Barber, who finished with a game-high 26 points and played all 40 minutes.
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Lacey, who left after his junior season to play professional basketball, was the one N.C. State player who would take over at the end of the shot clock or in end-game situation and make big shots.
Lacey had two buzzer-beaters last season: one against Georgia Tech that counted and one against Wofford that didn’t.
Before the season, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said that this Wolfpack team didn’t have a single, go-to player like Lacey.
“I guess we found one,” Gottfried said.
N.C. State (7-3) needed all of Barber’s points and minutes, and some clutch plays from freshman Maverick Rowan, to outlast a game High Point (8-3) team.
Guard Anthony Lindauer led the Panthers, whose last win over a current ACC team was in 1952, with 18 points. Senior forward John Brown picked up his play down the stretch, with 17 points and seven rebounds, to put High Point in position to win.
Brown’s steal of N.C State forward BeeJay Anya with 27 seconds left gave High Point the ball with the scored tied at 73. High Point coach Scott Cherry called timeout with 19.3 seconds to set up an inbounds play from in front of his own bench.
N.C. State sophomore guard Cody Martin stole the inbounds by Lindauer and had a clear breakaway. Martin was fouled on his way to the basket by High Point guard Adam Weary and injured his left ankle on the play.
Cherry was able to pick from the N.C. State players on the floor to take Martin’s free throws. He chose Anya, who entered the game shooting 34.4 percent from the foul line.
Anya missed both free throws but Rowan was able to secure the rebound of the second miss. The ball looked like it was going right to High Point forward Lorenzo Cugini, who gave the Panthers a 73-71 lead at 1:46 with a 3-pointer, but Caleb Martin was able to tip the ball to Rowan.
“That was the biggest play of the game for us,” Barber said of Rowan’s rebound.
Rowan made four 3-pointers and scored 19 points, his free throws with 1:21 left tied the game at 73, but he was most proud of his seven rebounds, which equaled his season high.
“I’m trying to get at least five to seven rebounds a game,” Rowan said. “Me and Caleb both need to rebound more. Caleb tipped it and I grabbed it.”
Rowan’s rebound gave the Wolfpack a chance to win with 13.3 seconds left. With the score tied at 73, Gottfried drew up a play to get Rowan free at the 3-point line.
But High Point cut off Rowan and Barber was dribbling at the top of the key. Caleb Martin actually bumped into Barber with the clock winding down.
“I kind of ran into Caleb but I kept my dribble and bounced off him,” Barber said.
Weary, who was guard Barber on the final sequence, went around Martin but Barber took a step-back dribble and cleared some room for the final shot.
“That was straight from Trevor’s playbook,” said forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Barber was able to drain the 3 over Weary’s out-stretched hand and the celebration was on. Last December, the team celebrated Lacey’s buzzer-beater against Wofford, only to have the last shot over-turned. This time, there was no such emotional confusion.
Abu started a dogpile on top of an elated Barber in front of the N.C. State bench.
“That was a big win for us,” Abu said. “Any win is a good win.”
It was the third straight win for an inexperienced Wolfpack team trying to find its footing. Gottfried was encouraged by his team’s resilience and the ability to make the big plays down the stretch that counted.
This could be the type of win that gets a young team going in the right direction before the start of ACC play on Jan. 2.
“I’ve always said success breeds confidence,” Gottfried said. “The more success that you have, you start to get a little bit of a swagger. We’re just still kind of trying to figure all that out. We’re not a team that has a lot of that just yet. Every small step helps us.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio