Senior guard Ralston Turner scored a career-high 33 points to lead N.C. State to an 83-72 win over Tennessee on Wednesday night.
Turner made eight 3-pointers, one short of the school record, and guard Trevor Lacey added 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Wolfpack (9-2).
Three Points from N.C. State's bounce-back win over the Volunteers:
1) Turner in the groove
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Ralston Turner made his fourth 3-pointer midway through the first half and flashed a big smile.
"At that point, I was feeling pretty good," said Turner, who finished the first half with 17 points and five 3s to give N.C. State control of the game.
Turner had a lot more to be happy about. The senior guard finished with a career-best eight 3-pointers. He went 9 of 18 from the field and made 7 of 8 free throws for his first 30-point game.
Before the game, teammate Trevor Lacey told Turner he was in for a big night against Tennessee's trapping defense.
"I actually told him before the game he was going to get 30 because the way they press us — I'm serious — he was going to get wide open 3s all night," Lacey said. "It was just on him to step up and make them."
That's exactly what Turner did, the team's leading 3-point shooter. Turner entered the game with 22 3s in 10 games. He made 8 of 17 from behind the line on Wednesday.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said Turner was spectacular.
"Sometimes as a shooter, you just start feeling it," Gottfried said. "You feel that groove where the rim starts to look bigger and you're hunting shots."
Turner was understandably pumped for his big night but he was more pleased to get back in the win column. N.C. State dropped a 55-54 gut-buster to Wofford on Sunday on a buzzer-beater that wasn't.
Turner said the team took the tough loss in stride but didn't want to let that game linger.
"It was just good to get a win," Turner said.
2) Progress from the forwards
The numbers from N.C. State's four forwards don't jump off the stat sheet, not with Turner and Lacey combining for 53 of the team's 83 poitns, but there were encouraging signs from the Wolfpack forwards.
When Tennessee cut what was a 12-point N.C. State lead down to 56-51 at 8:29 in the second half, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried called a timeout.
The subsequent play off the timeout didn't go to Turner or Lacey but freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu. Abu, who played a season-high 29 minutes, ducked into the lane and punched in a short jumper.
Again when Tennessee made it uncomfortable, it was Abu who delivered in the post, at 4:19 to stretch N.C. State's lead back to 67-58. He was fouled on the play, too. He missed the free throw but his scoring help was timely.
"I thought Malik was really good," Gottfried said. "I've said this many times, he's just scratching the surface. He's like a newborn out there, he's trying to learn how to walk."
Abu finished with eight points and four rebounds. BeeJay Anya added six points, four rebounds and three blocks. Neither Kyle Washington, who started, nor Lennard Freeman, had an impact on the game.
The way Tennessee was pressing and trapping, Gottfried chose to use four guards and one forward, either Abu or Anya, for long stretches in the second half.
Getting more scoring and help from the bigs is not just a one-game proposition.
"We're going to need those guys all year," Turner said.
3) Finishing smarter
Nobody fouls more with the lead than N.C. State. It's a completely illogical end-game strategy but it's not by design.
After N.C. State took a 69-58 lead with 3:28 left in the game, the Wolfpack committed four fouls.
Turner fouled Armani Moore on a continuation play at 1:18 that helped the Vols cut the lead down to six, 74-68. Turner had another could with 24 seconds left and Cat Barber committed a foul with 17 seconds left.
In each huddle, Turner said, Gottfried and the assistant coaches remind the players not to foul.
"You know the funny thing is, we sit there and say 'Don't foul, no touch fouls' all that and then we go out there and foul," Turner said.
The problem for N.C. State is it's not a one-off issue. Going back to last season (namely the games at Syracuse and at Virginia Tech, not to mention the Saint Louis loss in the NCAA tournament), but the Wolfpack has a bad habit of fouling with the lead and letting teams back in.
"There's always good and bad, that's definitely something we have to get better at," Gottfried said.