DAYTON -- With just how good T.J. Warren is, it's sometimes hard to pay attention to any other NC State player on the court. Against Xavier on Tuesday, it was those other players who helped push the Wolfpack out of Dayton and into Orlando with a 74-59 win over the Musketeers in the First Four. They will take on Saint Louis on Thursday in the round of 64.
Even if the eye-popping numbers still belonged to Warren (25 points, five rebounds), NC State got balance, and that was something that didn't happen often enough over the course of the regular season.
Freshman forward BeeJay Anya came up with big minutes, spelling Jordan Vandenberg, who struggled against Xavier's Matt Stainbrook. Point guard Tyler Lewis controlled the offense, finishing with seven points and eight assists. Ralston Turner (17 points, 6-of-11 shooting) hit a couple key jumpers, including a pull-up with just over seven minutes to play to give State a nine point advantage. And even freshman Kyle Washington, limited by foul trouble, had six points in the first half to get the Wolfpack offense going.
“Earlier in the year we were a young team and it took some time for us all to get used to each other,” Lewis said. “And now we’re getting used to each other making big plays.”
The light started to come on for NC State somewhere after the Wolfpack lost to Miami early in the month. Warren wasn't going to let his season end without putting up a fight. NC State is one of the youngest teams in the country, ranking 330th out of 351 teams in experience according to KenPom.
It was supposed to be a transition year for Mark Gottfried's team, and in a lot of ways it was, but now it's a transition year with a chance to keep on playing into the NCAA tournament.
“I think the one thing that’s really nice to see is our young players are really learning how to play at this level," Gottfried said, "learning how to execute and defend. And that’s what you want as a coach. You want your team to keep getting better, and I think we are getting better still.”
State had no answer for Stainbrook, a transfer from Western Michigan who scored 19 on 9-of-15 shooting and added nine rebounds. Semaj Christon added 14, but the rest of the Xavier offense wasn't productive enough to keep up with the Wolfpack offense. NC State had a 19-12 advantage in fast break points and also had eight blocks.
The Wolfpack move on to face Saint Louis, a team that's still reeling from an end of the season skid that saw the Billikens lose four out of their last five games. Saint Louis' tough defense should pose a challenge for Warren, but if it keys on the sophomore too much -- with the way the rest of the Wolfpack are playing right now -- the Billikens could be in trouble.