T.J. Warren has to play exceptional basketball if the NC State Wolfpack have any chance to succeed in the upcoming ACC tournament. However, if Monday night’s game is any indication, Warren may be warming up in such a way that the Wolfpack could be in business. Warren scored 41 points to lead NC State to a 74-67 upset win at Pittsburgh. The win improved the Wolfpack to 18-12 overall and 8-9 in the ACC. They may not have the look of an NCAA tournament team, but Warren can keep them in any game and that’s key when NC State starts play in the ACC tournament.
NC State ends the regular season with a home game against Boston College, who, despite its upset win at Syracuse recently, is a team that the Wolfpack should beat even if Warren only scores half as many points as he did on Monday. Warren was amazingly efficient Monday, scoring 41 points on 16-for-22 shooting from the field. Warren was 3-for-5 from three-point range and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line. For good measure, Warren added five rebounds, four steals and three assists in what may have been the best game played by any ACC player this season. Warren scored more points himself than Pittsburgh (22-8, 10-7 ACC) scored in either half. And this is against a Pitt team, mind you, that’s generally regarded as one of the better defensive teams in the conference.
Of late, Warren has played his best basketball — a good sign as NC State nears postseason play. Since missing the Wolfpack’s 65-56 win over Maryland on January 20, Warren has broken the 30-point mark on five occasions, and averaged 27.5 PPG in those 11 games. He’s also added 6.1 rebounds per game in that stretch. If NC State is going to go deep in the ACC tournament, Warren must continue that high level of play. The Wolfpack don’t have enough secondary offense to survive an off night by Warren, even in an early-round game of the conference tournament.
What would also help Warren and the Wolfpack is getting out of the eighth spot in the ACC standings. Right now, N.C. State would be playing Maryland in the first round of the ACC tournament. But a second-round matchup with regular-season conference champions Virginia would await if NC State stays in that seed, and the fifth-ranked Cavaliers (by points per game allowed) are the best defensive team in the country. Warren also had his worst game of the season in the only meeting this season between NC State and Virginia, scoring just four points on 1-for-9 shooting in a 76-45 Cavalier blowout.
It’d be a tough ask for NC State to turn around a 31-point deficit should the teams meet again. But the Wolfpack have lost by a single point to both North Carolina and Syracuse this season. With a more favorable seed and a red-hot Warren simply doing what he’s been doing for over a month now, the Wolfpack will be a curious team to watch in the ACC tournament and possibly beyond.