N.C. State has long done a great job of protecting its historic home court.
And while the Wolfpack was able to do it once again Saturday night, this time it was by the skin of the teeth.
It wasn’t until Detroit’s Jarod Williams missed an open 30-footer at the buzzer that the Wolfpack was able to breathe easily, holding off the resilient Titans 82-79 in the Wolfpack’s annual men’s basketball Heritage Game at Reynolds Coliseum.
T.J. Warren led the Wolfpack with 29 points, including the second of two free throws with 5.9 seconds left for the game’s final point. Ralston Turner finished with a season-high 21 points, going 6-for-8 from 3-point range.
It was the fifth straight victory for State (7-2), which has won 13 straight games at Reynolds since moving its permanent headquarters to what is now PNC Arena in 1999. Detroit fell to 5-6, and 0-2 all-time against the Wolfpack.
“The first thing is that it’s always much better to win than to lose, so we always like winning and that was good,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “There are a lot of ways to look at the game. We had nice 13, 15-point leads but they made some big shots. I don’t think we guarded them nearly as well as we could have late in the game.
“They took us off the dribble and we’ve got to be better there. We didn’t get stops down the stretch. They’re a crafty team that takes the ball to the basket well. They kind of spread the floor and that’s what they do.”
Juwan Howard Jr. led the Titans with 24 points, followed by Evan Bruinsma with 16, Ugochukwu Njoku with 11 and Williams with 10.
“This is our 11th game of the year and we have battled,” Detroit coach Ray McCallum said. “We’ve been battle-tested, we’ve been in environments. I’m just pleased my guys responded.
“We got the effort. We got the balls and the hustle plays and just got a lot of production from everybody. We made enough ‘3s’ to kind of give us some momentum.”
The Wolfpack shot 50 percent from the floor to 45.8 for Detroit. State hit 10 of 21 3-point tries to the Titans’ 6-for-20, but lost the rebound battle 36-31 and committed the 15 turnovers to the visitors’ 13.
N.C. State led 37-28 at halftime behind 13 points from Warren. Howard had nine at the break for the Titans, who played a 3-2 zone for much of the early going but moved out of it after the Wolfpack built double-digit leads with a solid 3-point attack.
The Wolfpack shot 44.8 percent in the first half to the Titans’ 34.5, and was leading the rebound battle 22-16.
N.C. State, which never trailed and was never tied, had its biggest advantage of the first half when Tyler Lewis’ 3-pointer made it 32-16 at the 3:51 mark.
The Titans cut the lead to eight at 41-33 on a jumper from Howard at the 18:02 mark. N.C. State steadily pulled away and built a 65-47 margin on a Turner jumper at 7:52.
“It felt good making those 3s,” Turner said. “Since the last game I’ve been in the gym with a lot of extra shots, because I want to be ready when the time comes.
“I finished my exams last week and have had some extra time. Any time you’re making 3-pointers it spreads out the defense and gives other guys opportunities to make plays.”
But Detroit kept coming, outscoring the Wolfpack 18-11 over the final four minutes to set up the nail-biter finish.
“I just wanted to make sure I made the second one,” Warren said of the late free throws. “I fell back a little bit on the first one and it came off, so I wanted to make sure I had some more lift on it and stood straight up.”
N.C. State’s next game is Wednesday night at Tennessee, with the next home game against East Carolina on Dec. 21 at noon at PNC Arena. Detroit visits Akron Wednesday night.