The North Carolina State Wolfpack honored their 1983 national champion coach Jim Valvano with a performance that had them looking like the team preseason predictions thought they’d be playing.
Wearing special jerseys that displayed the coach’s famous phrase “Don’t Ever Give Up” on the back instead of player names, the Wolfpack returned to the win column defeating the Connecticut Huskies 69-65 in the Jimmy V Classic.
Things didn’t start out promising for North Carolina State with Shabazz Napier scoring the first ten points for Connecticut as the Huskies took an early advantage leading by as many as 11 in the first half. The Wolfpack picked up their defense and battled back for a one point lead at halftime, led by C.J. Leslie who entered the break with seven points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Richard Howell left the game the first half after colliding with Leslie after the two attempted to grab an offensive rebound. It appeared as if Howell’s head snapped back after being struck by Leslie’s arm and he looked to be instant discomfort. Howell subbed out with six minutes remaining in the first half with only two points, no rebounds and didn’t return until the second half.
The Wolfpack’s best player to start the year shook off the neck discomfort and exploded in the second half with a double-double, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds with seven of them being offensive boards.
Leslie also finished with a double-double, as the junior has returned to the form that saw him as a preseason ACC player of the year candidate. After his embarrassing ejection in Puerto Rico, the 6-foot-9 forward has responded with three straight double-double performances as he attempts to reclaim his title as North Carolina State’s best player. After his strongest performance of the season against the Huskies with 16 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, Leslie is showcasing why he is the Wolfpack’s most talented player.
Unfortunately for Leslie, talent doesn’t always translate to being the best on the team and after his second half performance against Connecticut, that title still belongs to Howell. Still, the combination of the two provides the Wolfpack with an aggressive rebounding front court, which is a perfect complement to the team’s perimeter scorers.
Scott Wood is still one of the country’s best three-point shooters with an average of 45% from long range to go along with his 10.8 points per game. Lorenzo Brown isn’t taking care of the ball like he did last season but is still scoring 11.2 points per game. Meanwhile freshmen T.J. Warren and Rodney Purvis have shown their scoring ability with both players having multiple double-digit games.
The instant success of Warren and Purvis has actually hurt the team’s chemistry as not many expected the two to be this good, this quick. Instead of a feeling out process, the two freshmen jumped right into the deep end of the pool and proved they can swim with the big boys. Look no further than Warren’s 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting against the Michigan Wolverines for proof of that. The only problem with their success is its hurt the team’s offensive flow with the team adjusting to fit the freshmen in. Look no further than Brown’s struggles to begin the year as evidence.
As the Wolfpack continue to try and find themselves, they spent a night honoring a former legend with a display of what could be. With a tough rebounding frontcourt and skillful perimeter players, there’s no doubting that North Carolina State has talent.
It’s now all about finding the right chemistry.