NC State: Cleveland State’s Coach’s Take, Howell Embraces Leadership Role, The Reynolds Experience
NC State played in Reynolds Coliseum from 1949-99, and the cozy confines (it seats 12,400 when completely full and has a 9,500 capacity today) helped the Wolfpack go 589-177 (.769) at home in that span. With the win over Cleveland State on Saturday, NC State is now 603-177 (.773) there. It’s always been a hostile environment for opponents, though Saturday’s crowd was a bit sleepy at first. (The game was a sellout, and attendance was announced as 7,234, but the end zones were largely unoccupied. NC State didn’t sell tickets for those seats.)
Eventually, the proximity of the fans and the noise they generated combined to create the kind of home atmosphere most on NC State’s roster hadn’t experienced yet. It was particularly loud when the Wolfpack got its fastbreak offense rolling late in the first half. “I know a lot about (Reynolds). I saw (the team) come play here once last year so I was just waiting for my opportunity to get a chance to play here too,” freshman Rodney Purvis said. “It was great. It’s really packed. It’s small, so a lot of people come in. It was a great first experience.”
NC State’s current home, PNC Arena, seats 18,639 and the fans often feel far away. The crowd on Saturday was almost literally on top of the action. “It’s definitely different than playing in the PNC Arena. I liked it more just because everybody’s more on top of you, the crowd is just right there,” senior Richard Howell said. “And I feel like the crowd is more involved in the game rather than when we play in the PNC.”
NC State has played at Reynolds 14 times since 2002 and they are 14-0 in those games. They haven’t played an opponent that was a serious threat, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been close shaves. NC State played three games there last year in Gottfried’s first year and barely escaped NC Central (a five-point win) and Campbell (a six-point win).
It’s important to Gottfried that the tradition continues. “I think it’s special to play here, and I like the fact that we play at least a game here every year. I think it’s important,” Gottfried said. “I think it’s important for our fans, too. It means a lot to people. And it’s fun, too: the crowd and how close they are to the floor, and our fans are loud. You could feel it in there.”
RICHARD HOWELL, THE RELUCTANT LEADER
Senior big man Richard Howell has suddenly found himself the leader of this team, and he’s as shocked as anyone else. But he knows someone has to do it, and he doesn’t mind. “Just me being a senior trying to step up and fulfill that role, this being my last year – I feel like we can go far, but leadership is something that we’re lacking,” Howell said. “I want to go far, so I’m going to fulfill the role.”
In NC State’s blowout loss to Oklahoma State, he noticed a few mistakes from his teammates and he had his moments to speak up and correct those mistakes. He was saddled with foul trouble for much of that game (he ultimately fouled out), but he still wished he had spoken up. He let the mistakes go, as did everyone else, and the result spoke for itself.
And after the loss, which was the team’s first of the season, he decided he wasn’t going to keep quiet anymore. “Just talk when I need to, tell players what they need to do. When something is messed up, I’m the one that’s trying to just fix the little corrections … just keep everything together and stop the bickering amongst each other,” Howell said.
It took Howell some time to trust head coach Mark Gottfried last year when he first arrived on campus, but the reserved big man is exceedingly careful about who he lets in. Gottfried has his complete trust now, and he’s been telling Howell to embrace this role. ”I won’t say it’s hard, but it’s not easy,” Howell said. “I’m not the biggest talker and that’s one of the things me and Coach Gottfried talked about is me being a leader. I don’t have to say as much, but just lead by example and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
After the Oklahoma State game, he was true to his word: when his teammates played sluggish basketball against UNC-Asheville, he carried them up with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Against Connecticut, he had 13 points and ten rebounds (seven offensive), making a number of plays that led to the win. He did all that despite taking what appeared to be an elbow to the head or neck early in the game.
He picked up where he left off on Saturday with 17 points and ten rebounds. He’s getting more and more comfortable with leading by example, too – after fouling out of both of NC State’s losses, he has one foul in the last two games.
Howell accepting that role is just an extension of his team learning to accept who they are – and who they have to be – this season. NC State hasn’t been “the hunted” in a long time, but that’s the role the Wolfpack has found themselves in early.
“We have learned that we have to play hard every night, every possession, every practice. Sometimes, guys have to learn that. You’ve got to learn what it takes to become good,” Gottfried said. “We’re also learning that for the most part, when you do have some attention around your program, you’d better bring it every night because teams are going to play better against you. We’ve really not been in that role before, and so we’re learning that.
“I hope for these guys they just keep understanding that if we pay a price every day and really commit to it, we’ve got a chance to be good. But we’ve still got a long way to go in my opinion.”
CLEVELAND STATE HANGS TOUGH
Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters seemed pleased with his team’s effort against NC State – they kept the deficit between 10-15 points most of the game – and with good reason. The Vikings were without their best player, 6-8 sophomore Anton Grady, and could have used another big body like 6-9 center Ludovic Ndaye, who was also out. (Spoiler alert: NC State still would have won.)
As it was though, Howell and C.J. Leslie dominated the undermanned Viking frontcourt, combining for 36 points and 18 rebounds on 14-of-19 shooting. “That’s like going against David and Goliath down there. They’re athletic and they’re long,” Waters said. “That makes it hard for you to make lay-ups. It makes it hard for you to do certain things. However, it shouldn’t make it hard for you to pass the basketball. That’s a fundamental thing.”
Waters gave full credit to NC State, but added that if his own team hadn’t turned the ball over so much – which led to a lot of fastbreak baskets – they would have been in the game at the end. The 18 turnovers by Cleveland State were tied for the most by an NC State opponent this year, and the Wolfpack turned them into 16 points. NC State also had 17 fastbreak points.
But Waters wasn’t so sure the NC State offense would thrive if it were forced into a slow-down game. NC State has had a few such games already this year, including the Michigan game (which they lost, but played well) and the Penn State game (a convincing win). Still, that’s going to be the knock on NC State throughout the year and Waters is right about one thing – other teams are going to try to take the Wolfpack out of their transition game.
“They get it out and they push it up and they attack you. The thing is, I don’t know how they would do if you just keep them in a half-court game. I think that’s what’s going to happen to them throughout the season,” Waters said. “People are going to try to shut that down. They’re as good as anybody I’ve seen in the country getting in transition because they’ve got so many good finishers. That’s what I consider their speed.”