N.C. State’s Cat Barber was a game-long problem Tuesday for Northeastern in the Pack’s 72-66 victory.
The junior guard darted in and around defenders, drove to the basket, hit pull-up jumpers, beat double teams and scored 29 points while playing all 40 minutes.
“Cat was just terrific again,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “It’s becoming one of those things where you look down and he’s got 29 points, and it’s not a big deal anymore. But it is a big deal.”
If Barber had a complaint after the Pack’s sixth straight victory, it wasn’t that he didn’t score 30. He was more upset about missing a late free throw.
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But as the Wolfpack finished off its nonconference schedule 10-3, as it heads into ACC play Saturday at Virginia Tech, there is the realization that Barber, as consistently well as he has played, can’t carry but so much of the load. Others will be needed to contribute offensively, just as it will take a full team effort on the defensive end if the Pack is to make the NCAA Tournament for a fifth consecutive season.
Freshman Maverick Rowan did his part Tuesday. A nonfactor in the first half, Rowan scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, hitting four 3-pointers.
Caleb Martin did his part. Martin, who has struggled from the 3-point line, knocked in back-to-back 3’s with less than four minutes to play to give the Pack a 63-57 lead.
With the Pack leading 69-63, less than a minute to play and the Huskies setting up to press, Martin shook loose for a breakaway dunk. That finished off Northeastern (8-5), which won the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament last season and shocked Miami earlier in this season.
Abdul-Malik Abu also had 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Pack, which shot 62 percent from the field in the second half after a 32-percent first half.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction going into ACC play,” Barber said. “We’ve gotten better on defense, and I think we did it at the right time.”
Asked if the Pack was relying too much on him offensively, Barber said, “The team expects me to go out and score the ball. I know I’ve got to do that pretty much every game with Terry (Henderson) going out, but we’ve got a lot of guys who can step up. ‘Mav’ stepped up tonight in the clutch.”
Henderson, the transfer from West Virginia, has been sidelined since the season opener with torn ligaments in his right ankle. Gottfried said Tuesday he was not sure when Henderson might be able to play this season, saying he was “barely able to walk” without crutches.
But Rowan has filled in well. Never bashful with the ball, he didn’t stop shooting Tuesday, hitting his first 3 about four minutes into the second half and scoring 11 points in roughly five minutes.
Barber said he talked to Rowan at halftime, telling him that plays would be called for him in the second half, noting, “I told him just be patient and shoot the ball when you’re open.”
And Martin’s 3-pointers?
“Caleb has been in a slump and you know it was good for him to hit that first one,” Barber said.
As for Barber, not much more can be said. He hit 11 of 20 shots from the field and has averaged more than 26 points a game in the six-game win streak.
“I think Cat right now is playing as well as any guard in the country,” Gottfried said. “It’s hard to imagine anybody doing more for their team than he’s doing for our team. And he’s doing it every night.
“Teams are keying on him. Tonight they almost had two guys guarding him and he still finds a way to affect the game in a positive way.”