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Deeper Wolfpack sorting through roles, options

NC State's Mark Gottfried says the Wolfpack moved the ball really well in the victory

VIDEO: NC State head basketball coach Mark Gottfried talks about the Wolfpack's 99-78 victory over the Fairfield Stags at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC, Sunday, December 18, 2016.
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VIDEO: NC State head basketball coach Mark Gottfried talks about the Wolfpack's 99-78 victory over the Fairfield Stags at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC, Sunday, December 18, 2016.

Play less, win more.

Abdul-Malik Abu is perfectly content with this formula. That’s because the N.C. State forward experienced the inverse last season.

Playing more, winning less wasn’t any fun. Winning is fun and the Wolfpack (9-2) has won four straight with McNeese (3-7) coming to PNC Arena on Thursday (7 p.m., ACC Network Extra).

Depth was not N.C. State’s strength last season with only eight healthy scholarship players. The Wolfpack stumbled to a 5-13 record in the ACC and 16-17 overall and missed the NCAA tournament.

Abu, point guard Cat Barber and wing Maverick Rowan had to play a lot and do a lot.

“I used to be stressed last year,” Abu said. “With me and Cat and Mav, it was like, you guys go out there and die and do everything.”

And this year?

“I feel fresh,” said Abu, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes in a 99-78 win over Fairfield this past Sunday. “I feel like a lot of players feel fresh.”

That’s because coach Mark Gottfried has more options this season. Since freshman forward Omer Yurtseven has been eligible the past two games, nine players have logged at least 10 minutes per game.

On the season, nine players have averaged at least 15 minutes per game. That’s the most Gottfried has used in a regular rotation in his six seasons at N.C. State. He had only one team in 10 seasons at Alabama regularly go that deep.

Gottfried prefers a tighter rotation and might pare this one down come ACC play next month, but he has embraced the concept of more is more.

“The strength of our team is the team,” Gottfried said. “It’s all of us together. I think our guys understand that and hopefully they’ll buy into that.”

We all understand that this is the deepest team we’ve had in years. Guys are going to have to play less minutes but it’s going to take all of us to win.

N.C. State guard Terry Henderson

So far, so good on that front. Abu isn’t the only player to embrace the concept of sharing the wealth.

“We all understand that this is the deepest team we’ve had in years,” senior guard Terry Henderson said. “Guys are going to have to play less minutes but it’s going to take all of us to win.”

And there will be games where some players are on the floor more than others. Henderson made his first four 3-pointers against Fairfield, and Gottfried wasn’t about to take him off the floor just because the coach had a preconceived substitution pattern.

“I’m not going to sub, just to sub at a certain time on the clock,” Gottfried said. “Every game will unfold a little bit differently.”

Henderson, who finished with 25 points, played a team-high 32 minutes against Fairfield. That meant fewer minutes for guards Markell Johnson (12) and Rowan (16).

Among the bigs, Yurtseven played the most minutes (28) with Gottfried trying to get him in game shape after having to sit out the first nine games due to an NCAA eligibility issue. Senior BeeJay Anya (11 minutes), who started, and freshman Ted Kapita (14) didn’t get as many minutes as they have in other games this season.

Gottfried’s still trying to find the right combinations and which players mesh the best with others.

The coach has spent a lot of time talking about playing time and getting the players to buy into a team concept.

“We talk about it every day,” sophomore guard Torin Dorn said. “We have a lot of numbers and a lot of guys who are really good. So whatever lineup is necessary to win, that’s the one we’ll go with.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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