A player with Ben Simmons’ reputation and skill set you can see coming a mile away. But Jimmy Gavin?
The graduate transfer from a Division II school caught N.C. State off guard on Friday night and nearly pulled off an upset for Winthrop.
Instead, N.C. State got a career-high 37 points from Cat Barber to offset a 38-point outburst by Gavin in an 87-79 Wolfpack win.
N.C. State (4-2) held Simmons, the LSU freshman who is the projected No. 1 overall draft pick in the next NBA draft, to four points in an N.C. State win on Tuesday night in New York.
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Gavin, who averaged 17.4 points per game at Wisconsin-Parkland last season, made seven 3-pointers and had 30 points in the first 25 minutes of Friday’s game. But Gavin, a 6-3 lefty marksman, had everyone’s attention after the game.
“We’re going to play against a lot of good players, we do every year, especially in our conference,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I got a hard time thinking we’re going to play against anybody that’s as offensively dangerous as Jimmy Gavin. Wow.”
Gavin hit back-to-back 3s to give Winthrop (4-1) a 55-51 lead at 15:08 in the second half. Gottfried had seen enough and called timeout. In the huddle, the Wolfpack coach challenged twins Cody and Caleb Martin to at least slow Gavin down.
“I said it’s on you two guys,” Gottfried said. “At least they made it hard. Wow, I’m still kind of amazed at (Gavin’s) performance.”
The Wolfpack coach wasn’t the only one. Barber, who made 19 of 22 free throws, said there was no doubt who was more impressive between Simmons, the No. 1 recruit in the country, and Gavin, who also made college stops at Mississippi State and Bradley.
“The dude we played tonight,” Barber said when asked who he’d take with the No. 1 pick. “‘Great’ was his name? He was crazy.”
The Martins, both with four inches on Gavin, were able to bother the Winthrop guard with their defense in the final 15 minutes. He scored only eight more points and N.C. State went on a 19-3 run after his fifth 3-pointer.
Caleb Martin scored six points during the decisive run and Barber had a three-point play at 8:17 to give N.C. State a 70-58 lead.
Barber, who added eight assists, eclipsed his previous career best of 34 points.
“Cat was terrific, just spectacular again like he has been every night,” Gottfried said.
Barber had a smaller guard, 5-7 Keon Johnson, and was able to get to the basket consistently. Barber entered the game struggling with his field goal percentage (30.9) but has been 88.7 percent on his free throws.
“It was just one of those nights I was determined to get to the rim no matter who was guarding me,” Barber said.
Freshman guard Maverick Rowan helped Barber with 17 points and junior forward Lennard Freeman added 10 rebounds.
The Wolfpack, after dropping a 79-76 loss to Arizona State on Monday, picked up its second win in four days. N.C. State learned a lesson in the value of reputations without taking a loss in the process.
“Our team has to understand how to play hard all the time,” Gottfried said. “We’re getting there.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio