N.C. State’s first trip to Puerto Rico in program history brought out an old game of role reversal.
While two preseason ACC first-teamers had the jittery look of freshmen, it was two actual freshmen playing in their second career college game who resembled preseason all-conference players.
Durham native T.J. Warren poured in 22 points while Raleigh’s own Rodney Purvis chipped in 12—all in the first half—as the Pack rolled through Penn State, 72-55, in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tipoff. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, who have garnered much of the preseason hoopla in the Research Triangle, could only defer to the underclassmen.
There were enough mental lapses from the Wolfpack alpha males to give pause about the team’s top-five ranking. Leslie was quiet for most of the contest while Brown was a walking mistake all evening. And yet that wasn’t the story in Bayamon on Thursday.
For every possession that Leslie took off, for every one of Brown’s missed shots or errant passes, there was a reciprocal flash of brilliance from either Warren or Purvis that offers a glimpse of just how good N.C. State can be. On a night when the team’s star point guard went 1 of 10 from the floor, its leader inside looked disengaged and Richard Howell spent most of his time adjusting his seat on the bench, State still cruised.
No, Thursday night wasn’t about Leslie’s lax effort or Brown’s sophomoric decisions. It was about two freshmen—more composed than their elders—breaking through, playing wise beyond their years and atoning for the sloppy play of the upperclassmen. With the additional fuel provided by Warren and Purvis, the Wolfpack now own enough firepower to set the ACC ablaze.
Warren was a man among boys on the court, flashing a deadly outside touch to complement his savage game inside. Purvis, meanwhile, was a valuable offensive spark in the first half, hitting each of his first four shots—two from behind the arc—to help pad N.C. State’s lead.
Tyler Lewis, the third Burger Boy in State’s heralded freshman class, will offer very little for the Pack this season. He’s undersized, unathletic, can’t score and is a liability defensively. The little passing maestro, in short, was one of those “boys” surrounding Warren’s manly presence. But Mark Gottfried will not need much out of his backup point guard if Warren and Purvis shine in the manner they did in their first round game in Puerto Rico.
N.C. State’s upperclassmen are unlike those you’ll see at Duke or even North Carolina. Leslie, Brown, Howell and Scott Wood are, and will continue to be, prone to silly mistakes. Discipline is not their forte, and nights like tonight could become a familiar refrain for this talented, but error-prone team as a result.
And that’s perfectly fine with coach Gottfried. If Thursday night’s mistake-fest and showstopper dichotomy was an omen of what’s to come, the Wolfpack are going to have a mean bite this season.