NC State: Three-Guard Lineups, Richard Howell Doesn’t Foul, T.J. Warren’s Efficiency, A Lucky Bounce

Because who doesn’t need to see the giant cardboard cutout of C.J. Leslie again?

SIX STARTERS AND INTERESTING LINEUPS

NC State head coach Mark Gottfried has said all year long that he essentially has six starters (Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis, Scott Wood, T.J. Warren, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell). With some rare exceptions – a matchup he might want to exploit, or maybe a violation of team rules – there’s no real rhyme or reason to who that sixth starter will be.

The freshmen, Purvis and Warren, are the only two of the six that have missed starts, though. Purvis started the first five games, and after a loss to Oklahoma State and a close shave against UNC-Asheville, Warren started the next two (at Michigan and UConn). Warren struggled against the Huskies, and Purvis has been the starter the last two games.

But Gottfried said that both will get their minutes regardless, and that’s appeared to be the case. “It’s just not one of those things for me that I’m going to get all that worried up about,” Gottfried said. “I know players do. Everybody wants to start, I know that.”

Junior reserve Jordan Vandenberg missed the game with a knee injury, leaving NC State with seven healthy scholarship players on Saturday. Both Wood (a wing) and Leslie (a forward) were in foul trouble throughout the game, which resulted in some new lineups. At one point, three players who could in theory play point guard – Brown, Purvis and freshman reserve Tyler Lewis – were in at the same time.

After the game, Purvis was asked if that three-guard lineup had ever been used before. “Yeah, several times,” Purvis said. He paused, thinking it over.  “Well…not really. Not a lot.” NC State goes with a lot of different lineups in practice, but Purvis said that he can’t remember ever being out there in practice with Brown and Lewis.

When asked if we’d see that lineup again, he seemed much more confident. “Every game, it seems to be a new guy in foul trouble with this team,” Purvis said with a grin. “So you’re going to see many different lineups. I can promise you that.”

RICHARD HOWELL DOESN’T FOUL (LATELY)

One guy that hasn’t been in foul trouble lately? Richard Howell. The senior has seemingly decided he doesn’t much care for losing, and since the loss at Michigan (when he fouled out) he has a total of four fouls in the last three games. NC State has arguably two of its toughest wins this year – UNC-Asheville and UConn – directly because of Howell not being in foul trouble. He played 68 minutes combined in those games, and only missed time during the UConn game because of taking an elbow to the head/neck region.

“Richard has been in foul trouble a number of nights and just can’t get in a flow. … Last year, there were very few games where he could get 34 minutes like he did (Saturday), very few, because of the foul situation,” Gottfried said. “He’s developing some discipline defensively. He’s not reaching as much. He’s not putting himself in positions where he’s trying to recover and make silly fouls. We’re a lot better as a team when all of them are out of foul trouble, quite honestly.”

Howell pulled down nearly half of NC State’s rebounds (19, a career-high, out of 42) by himself on Saturday, including 16 of their 32 defensive rebounds. He’s listed at 6-8, but he’s more like 6-7. His freakishly long arms and fantastic hands are part of the reason he had a tendency to reach in on the perimeter and try to get a steal, but they also make him the great rebounder that he’s become.

Sometimes, even his teammates have a tendency to assume he’ll get every rebound. “What happens to our team at times too is because he’s such a good rebounder, we’ve got other guys leaking our every now and then because we feel like he’s going to get it. If he doesn’t get it, balls are around the floor and bouncing and (the opponents) pick up some loose balls because we’re leaking out (in transition),” Gottfried said.

“But we’re leaking out because there’s so much confidence that Richard’s going to get it. What we’ve got to do is make sure that we still rebound as a team better. But he finds a way usually to help us start the break. He’ll get rid of it quick on an outlet pass so we can start the break. He made some nice passes, I thought, too tonight. He had a heck of a game.”

T.J. WARREN’S CRAZY EFFICIENCY

Warren continues to look like an ACC Rookie of the Year candidate. His game is reminiscent of former North Carolina star Antawn Jamison with his quick release and overall smoothness. Nothing looks difficult for Warren, and every shot looks like it’s going in (and most have – he’s hit 69% of his field goals this season).

As quietly as someone can have 21 points, Warren did that Saturday. He was 9-of-11 from the floor and 2-of-2 from three-point range. He has shot 7-of-11 from three this year (64%).

Even at 6-foot-8, he’s got the green light from three. Well, maybe. “Sort of, kind of, yeah,” Warren said. “I just want to have confidence when I’m shooting that. Coach told me to shoot that, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

When asked to elaborate on “sort of”, he said, “Shoot it when I’m open.” The follow-up question was: “When you’re feeling it?” Warren shrugged. “I mean, I can shoot it whenever.”

If there’s a negative with Warren, it’s that he hasn’t done much else besides score. He is averaging just 3.4 rebounds a game (he had five on Saturday, his most since November 15) and he has just two blocks all season. But considering he’s scored 131 points in 237 minutes, it’s very difficult to find fault.

LUCKY BOUNCE

It sounds insane to say this on a night when the Wolfpack put up 84 points and shot 57%, but they did leave plenty of points on the floor, as the saying goes. The Wolfpack shot just 64% from the foul line (which is their season average), blew a few transition opportunities trying to get “too cute” as their head coach put it and turned it over 17 times.

But there was one basket that even Purvis admits was probably a gift from the basketball gods. Brown attempted to throw Purvis an alley-oop in transition on the other side of the basket, but Purvis only got his fingertips on it, almost like he was setting the ball in volleyball. It popped up in the air and somehow fell in the basket.

They were fortunate on that play, but Purvis said that he and Brown are really starting to get a good feel for each other when they’re on the court together. “Honestly, I don’t know how that went in. It hurt my fingernail, so I don’t really know how that went in,” Purvis said. “The mental connection, we play a lot in practice, getting a feel for each other, knowing what each other can do, what spots and what’s good for each other. So we just try our best to capitalize on everything.”

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