Senior guard Terry Henderson led N.C. State with 21 points in Saturday’s overtime win over Tennessee State.
But Henderson knew who was the real star of the Wolfpack’s 67-55 victory at Reynolds Coliseum.
“This is BeeJay’s night,” Henderson said. “The boy came to play.”
Senior forward BeeJay Anya was sitting right next to Henderson in the postgame news conference and flashed his trademark big smile when Henderson complimented him. Anya was his usual gregarious self with Henderson and the media. When Henderson was asked about Anya’s slow start to the season, Anya interrupted Henderson’s answer.
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“I haven’t been playing that bad,” Anya said. “Dang.”
Playing time has been more of an issue for the 6-foot-9, 320-pound senior than quality of play. Before he had 12 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and seven blocks in 38 minutes against Tennessee State, Anya had played 4 minutes against Boston University, 6 at Illinois and 7 against Loyola (Ill.).
But with starting forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Ted Kapita in foul trouble in the first half, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried needed a little more out of Anya. The big man delivered.
Anya had eight points in 14 minutes in the first half. That equaled Anya’s scoring total from the previous five games combined. The matchup with Tennessee State senior forward Wayne Martin helped Anya, Gottfried said.
The two forwards went at it on the low block like a pair of heavyweight fighters.
“The game was real physical,” Anya said. “The team we played today was one of those teams where you have to bring your ‘A’ game. You have to show your toughness. That’s one of the things I’m good at, being tough.”
N.C. State needed Anya’s toughness, especially on defense. The Wolfpack gave up 56 points in the second half of an 88-74 loss at Illinois on Nov. 29. It allowed only 55 points, in 45 minutes, against the Tigers. Anya’s blocked shots had a lot to do with TSU’s 32.3 percent shooting from the floor.
Tennessee State went more than 8 minutes without scoring after taking a 38-30 lead at 15:11 in the second half. Anya’s defense was a big reason why.
The question now is what’s next for Anya. With forward Omer Yurtseven eligible to play in N.C. State’s next game (Thursday vs. Appalachian State), Gottfried will have four options at forward.
There’s an easy way to get minutes, Gottfried said.
“You get in there and play well, you get to play more,” Gottfried said. “Real hard to figure that one out: play better, play more.”
Anya had averaged only 13 minutes over the first eight games, despite starting in six of those contests. His weight and conditioning continue to be an issue. He reported to school in August at 344, almost 60 pounds heavier than he was at the same point last season.
He has gotten down to 320 pounds and that has helped, certainly in a situation like Saturday where he ended up playing a career-high in minutes.
And while Gottfried has been frustrated by Anya’s weight issues, he hasn’t had a problem with Anya’s attitude.
“He has been upbeat and he wants to contribute,” Gottfried said. “He hasn’t been a guy who has shown a negative attitude whatsoever.”
Anya said there’s no reason to pout, even if his playing time fluctuates.
“My main focus is winning,” Anya said. “Whatever coach wants us to do, in terms of the greatest plan for us to win.”
Some nights that will mean more minutes for Kapita or Yurtseven or Abu, and Anya understands that. There’s only one way to approach each game, Anya said.
“Be ready to play when your name is called,” Anya said. “Sometimes different teams and different personnel works out better for a player.”
Anya got the call against a tough Tennessee State team and helped deliver a hard-fought win for the Wolfpack.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio