Final Score: N.C. State 69, Connecticut 65
Twitter Recap: Napier owns 1st half, Howell takes over 2nd. Pack pivot awakens, dominates inside along w/Leslie. NCSU prevails despite late boneheaded play
Napier leaves his mark. The star junior guard scored UConn’s first ten points (three triples and a free throw). Normally a second half player, Napier did all the heavy lifting for the Huskies in first half while Boatright and Daniels struggled from the floor. N.C. State did clamp down on Napier as the game wore on, which allowed the Wolfpack to climb back into the game. After nailing three of his first four shots—all from downtown—the Huskies scoring ace missed seven of his final ten attempts and had to work harder for those looks.
Where UConn fell apart. Connecticut canned five of its first six 3-pointers to jump out to an early 20-9 lead. In so doing, the shooting spree built more than just a comfortable, double-digit advantage; it built a false sense of security from behind the arc which ultimately doomed the Huskies for the rest of the night. UConn began to settle, using dribble penetration to collapse the N.C. State defense and free open shooters rather than to attack the rim. The Huskies jacked up a slew of 3’s early in the shot clock, and when they stopped falling, the Wolfpack leaked out and parlayed the long rebounds into easy transition buckets. UConn connected on only 3 of its final 17 attempts from long-range following the early surge. It didn’t help either that the team missed several bunnies at the hoop, especially in the first half.
Turnovers loom large. Both teams were careless with the basketball down the stretch—an especially troubling theme thus far for the Wolfpack that has contributed to their rocky start—and the Huskies took a tumble as a result. Connecticut turned the ball over six times in the game’s final 14 minutes—all at the most inopportune times—and watched five of the six turnovers lead directly to N.C. State points. That’s a 10 to 20 point swing in a game that was ultimately decided by two baskets.
UConn’s frontcourt quiet again. Enosch Wolf had a coming out party scoring 10 points (all in different ways) while pulling down seven rebounds. Whether that’s a fluke or a sign of something greater to come is still unclear. What is clear, however, is that the Huskies need a lot more out of their other frontcourt weapons. Tyler Olander and sharp-shooting swingman Niels Giffey were each scoreless on the night and relatively punchless on the defensive end. For UConn to be a player in the Big East, not only does Wolf need to maintain this level of play, but the veterans must elevate theirs.
Howell takes over. About time. The Wolfpack center ruled the game after intermission, notching a double-double in the second half alone. Howell played his tail off all night, and his effort on both ends of the floor was pivotal in sparking N.C. State’s run beginning midway through the first half. The Huskies were the more active and hungry team all night; that’s been their M.O. so far this year. But N.C. State’s lone wolf wasn’t too shabby himself. His energy was the unsung savior of the game for the Pack.
Veterans step up. Nice to see you tonight, Lorenzo and Scott. Brown rediscovered his mid-range game in a big way, scoring 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting to provide the backcourt jolt. Wood, meanwhile, provided the perimeter scoring, sinking three of his six 3-point attempts and saving his one assist of the night for the biggest swing play of the game—a pretty feed to Howell for a conventional 3-point play that extended State’s 3-point lead to 6 with less than two minutes to play. C.J. Leslie was stellar too—even had the play of the night—but we know that already. He’s the one constant on a team rife with talented, but inconsistent players.
Conference implications. N.C. State’s win notwithstanding, this was not a particularly forceful statement by the ACC, which sent its preseason conference favorite to battle with a sanction-ridden team picked to finish ninth in the Big East by the coaches. Though we shouldn’t extrapolate one head-to-head matchup to the rest of each conference, the early referendum suggests the ACC may be a tad weaker than expected [at least at the top] while the Big East may be a little tougher [and deeper] than initially thought.