Officially, N.C. State won its first home game in 2016 on Saturday.
The Wolfpack upset No. 15 Miami 85-69 with 30 points from junior guard Cat Barber and a significant rebounding margin.
But the roots of the gritty win were set in practice on Thursday and Friday. N.C. State (12-10, 2-7 ACC) coach Mark Gottfried blasted his team after a lackadaisical effort in a 90-83 loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
The practices were intense and were completed in plain white T-shirts, instead of the usual practice gear.
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“(The practices) were crazy,” junior forward Lennard Freeman said. “That’s all I can say.”
The new spartan practice gear will remain in effect, Gottfried said Saturday, until the “privilege” of playing basketball for N.C. State is fully appreciated.
“Coach G was trying to send a message because people weren’t playing hard,” Freeman said. “He thought we were taking things for granted.”
Gottfried got the response that he was seeking with his pointed comments after the Georgia Tech loss but he was not in a mood to celebrate on Saturday.
“You have to learn how to do it every single night,” Gottfried said. “It can’t be one of those things where we do it every now and then. This league is too good. Hopefully we’ve learned a lesson that will carry on.”
It didn’t take long for the Wolfpack players to show Gottfried they were fired up for the Hurricanes (16-4, 5-3). Freeman hustled and grabbed an offensive rebound 23 seconds into the game. Then Maverick Rowan corralled a Freeman miss and Cody Martin rebounded Rowan’s missed 3-point attempt.
One possession, three offensive rebounds and Barber capped it off with a jump for a 2-0 lead.
Usually one shot or one possession, especially that early, doesn’t make a difference but there was something to the energy – and by the number of different players who were hustling.
“I thought the first possession of the game set the tone for our team and the way we wanted to play,” Gottfried said.
Even Miami coach Jim Larrañaga noted the rebounding hustle and want-to by N.C. State on the extended opening possession.
“They were able to do what they wanted to do and we didn’t show much resistance,” Larrañaga said.
The quick start certainly gave N.C. State a leg up in the rebounding category. The Wolfpack finished the game with a 41-23 advantage on the glass. Four players had seven rebounds each.
Perhaps the most important rebounding stat was the Wolfpack grabbed 31 of Miami’s 35 missed field goals for the game.
“It was a full-on team effort on the glass,” said forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.
There was energy and “zip,” which Gottfried specifically said was missing in the loss to Georgia Tech. Gottfried said he placed an emphasis on “enthusiasm, energy, effort and emotion.”
“That is a requirement for this team to have a chance every night,” Gottfried said. “They showed it today. Now we’ll see what happens going forward.”
A repeat performance from the foul line, a problem area this season, wouldn’t hurt, either. N.C. State made a season-high 26 free throws and made a season-best 83.9 percent (26 of 31).
But it was the totality of the effort – from all seven players – particularly in contrast to Wednesday’s loss, that stood out for N.C. State.
“When you finally realize what you’re capable of, when you just give in and sacrifice for the greater good of the team, good things happen,” Abu said.
They did on Saturday for N.C. State.