Cat Barber went through what worked for N.C. State in its first ACC win of the season on Tuesday night at Pittsburgh.
“We played great defense and we were really executing on offense,” Barber said. “We rebounded, too.”
In short, everything went the Wolfpack’s way for a 78-61 road win over the Panthers. N.C. State (11-8, 1-5 ACC) looked like the ACC team off to a 4-1 start and Pitt (15-3, 4-2) the 0-5 team, not vice versa.
We just got tired of losing.
NC State’s Lennard Freeman
But that kind of release of frustration, which might be the best way to put N.C. State’s fantastic first half, is what happens when a team gets fed up.
“We just got tired of losing,” said sophomore forward Lennard Freeman, who had 14 rebounds.
And the players got tired of hanging Barber, who had 31 points, out to dry. Much of the 0-5 ACC start could be chalked up to Barber, who leads the ACC in scoring, having to do too much.
The last two games, in particular, have been a marked change. Abdul-Malik Abu had another double-double on Tuesday, his eighth in 10 games. He’s starting to step into the role as the primary complement to Barber.
“You can see his confidence starting to grow,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
Abu, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, has been helped by a lineup change by Gottfried, who has a knack for tweaking his starting five to produce the needed results.
After an 85-78 home loss to Florida State on Jan. 13, Gottfried decided to switch the Martin twins. Cody was moved into the starting lineup and Caleb, who had been struggling with his 3-point shot, was moved to the bench.
Cody Martin has been able to handle the ball and help Barber run some sets.
“And Cody’s first thought is to go inside,” Gottfried said. “We need to get the ball inside more.”
Abu has averaged 15 points and 10.2 rebounds the past five ACC games, and that includes an 11 and 2 effort in only 14 minutes in a loss at Wake Forest on Jan. 10.
Gottfried likes to say that Abu is “blossoming like a flower.” What he’s doing is following the recent developmental path of T.J. Warren and Barber, who both emerged in the second half of their sophomore seasons.
With Barber getting more consistent scoring help from Abu, and the occasional breather from Cody Martin at the point, N.C. State is starting to find the best possible version of itself.
Gottfried bristled at the notion that the first half at North Carolina last Saturday was his team’s best 20 minutes of the season.
It didn’t take him long on Tuesday, after his team scored 44 points, shot 58.1 percent and held Pitt to 25 percent and 19 points in the first half, to point out the difference.
“That was our best half of the season, by far” Gottfried said. “We did a lot of good things.”
The Wolfpack will have to continue to do more to move up the ACC standings. The more it plays like it did on Tuesday, the more wins will come its way.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio