Warren, Pack make case for NCAA Tournament committee
N.C. State and ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren put themselves in contention for a berth in the NCAA Tournament with their run to the ACC Tournament semifinals.
But after State’s stay at the Greensboro Coliseum ended with a 75-67 loss to Duke on Saturday, all the seventh-seeded Wolfpack (21-13) can do is wait and see if it was enough.
Warren had 21 points — his 16th straight game with at least 20 — but he struggled in the second half as third-seeded Duke pulled away.
After finishing the regular season with back-to-back 40-point games, Warren had 24 points in the tournament opener against No. 10 Miami and 28 in an upset win over No. 2 Syracuse Friday that gave the Wolfpack the win over a marquee opponent that it desperately needed to boost its profile.
But after scoring 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting in the first half against Duke in N.C. State’s third game in three days, the Durham native had eight points on 4 of 13 shooting in the second half as the Blue Devils broke open what was a one-point game at halftime.
“I wasn’t tired,” Warren said. “I was just frustrated. I was missing shots and their defense was really aggressive. They really game-planned this one.”
Rodney Hood had the primary assignment on Warren, but Duke continued to cycle different defenders on the N.C. State sophomore. Guards Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones all took turns guarding Warren in the first half, and other Blue Devils were quick to help when Warren got in the paint, which Hood called “shrinking the floor.”
“They made sure they kept fresh legs on the floor against me, rotating real good, going with three or four guys, collapsing the lane,” Warren said. “I couldn’t get anything going and when they were hitting open 3s, it was kind of hard to catch up.”
Warren entered the game third in the NCAA in scoring at 24.9 points per game, and he was the third player in ACC history to lead the league in scoring and field-goal percentage, joining Horace Grant and Tim Duncan.
His jumper to start the second half put the Wolfpack up 40-39, but he went scoreless over the next 12 minutes as Duke took an 11-point lead.
“They tried to full front deny him, deny his catch, eliminate his touches,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “They made it hard for him to catch the ball, and it became hard for him to get it where he wanted to get it.”
With 4:17 left, Warren fumbled a pass on the perimeter and crashed into the scorer’s table trying to save the ball from going out of bounds. His pounding on the court illustrated his frustration, and two last baskets in the final minute once the game was out of reach did nothing to help.
Warren got an ovation from the Wolfpack faithful when he was taken out with five seconds left, and received encouraging words from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during the handshake line.
Now the only question is where he’ll play next — in Dayton as one of the last at-large teams in the NCAA Tournament, at home in the NIT Tournament, or somewhere else.
“We competed with every top team, I feel like, so far,” Warren said. “I feel like we belong in the dance. We’re just going to see what happens.”
N.C. State has three wins against RPI Top 50 teams Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Tennessee, all away from Raleigh. But they also have 13 losses, including home games against Miami and N.C. Central and a road defeat at Wake Forest.
The game against NCCU came during N.C. State’s 2-2 start, when center Jordan Vandenberg was out with an ankle injury and the Wolfpack was trying to replace five of its top six scorers.
“I hope that we’re a legitimate contender. I really do,” Gottfried said. “Then we had a young team that got better. We’re not the same team now that we were in November and December. When you’re playing and, you know, you lose 80 percent of all of your scoring from a year ago, it’s going to take awhile to figure yourselves out.
“I look around the country and figure out how many teams can go win at Pittsburgh like we did. We watched them today and they’re pretty good. And at Tennessee and all of the things we’ve done. We have a great league. It’s a great league. And I hope that these young guys have a chance.”