NC State’s T.J. Warren Needs More Help if Wolfpack Are to Dance AgainPosted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2013
T.J. Warren is having a tremendous sophomore season, leading North Carolina State and the ACC in scoring with an average of 23.9 PPG, while also leading his team in rebounding (7.8 RPG) and minutes played (34.5 MPG). But he is going to need more help from his teammates if NC State wants to be a serious contender in the ACC and return to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season. Saturday’s loss at home to #25 Missouri was a good example of this fact.
With just over 12 minutes to go in the game, Warren drilled a three-pointer from the left corner – his only made three in seven attempts for the game. At that point, the sophomore star had already notched 24 points and 11 rebounds, and the Pack held a five-point lead. From that moment on, Warren went scoreless on three field goal attempts and managed only two more rebounds for a 24/13 night. He wasn’t totally invisible for the remainder, as he did record a block and assisted on two huge three-point baskets by Ralston Turner. But his lack of production down the stretch was a big reason that N.C. State couldn’t hold off the Tigers, who trailed by 10 points with just under nine minutes left. Missouri suddenly got hot from the outside, making five of their last six three point tries after only hitting two of their first 12 from behind the arc. But without their star involved in the offense, the Pack just couldn’t match that burst from Missouri and its star guards, Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who led the Tigers in scoring with 21 and 17 points, respectively.
After playing a zone for most of the game, Missouri mostly went to a man-to-man defense down the stretch. The primary assignment for guarding Warren went to Earnest Ross, who had an excellent all-around game with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Afterward, Ross commented that Missouri tried to make it tough for Warren, adding, ”we played physical with him.” At 6’5″ and 228 solid pounds, the senior Ross had the size and experience to do just that. Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried had another take, saying, “I think T.J. got tired… and wasn’t as aggressive” during the last quarter of the game.
Gottfried may have a point when considering N.C. State’s last two games. Including the 90-79 win over East Carolina last Saturday, Warren has followed explosive first halves with less productive play in the second. In the two games combined Warren has hit for 40 points and 12 rebounds in the first half — phenomenal production. His combined second half numbers of 16 points and nine rebounds, while certainly respectable, are a large dropoff. Perhaps he is wearing down in games, which would make sense considering that most of his points come from energy plays involving movement, cutting, and aggressively attacking the offensive boards. But if Gottfried plans to rest Warren more, he needs his teammates to step up their production in his absence.
So where will that help come from? Much may come from freshman point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber, who never seemed to get going against Missouri, struggling with foul trouble and shooting (2-of-11) over the bigger Tigers’ guards. Barber managed to make some plays for others, tallying six second half assists, and his continued development as a play-maker may be the key to more balanced scoring for his team. Also, more is needed from the four primary big men that the Pack plays. Against Missouri, that group struggled mightily — as Gottfried pointed out postgame, they combined for only nine rebounds, four fewer than Warren by himself. In a telling comparison with Missouri’s four post players — also considered role players — the Pack’s big guys combined for 12 points in 79 minutes while their counterparts combined for 18 points and 16 rebounds. One encouraging note is that 10 of those Wolfpack points came from freshman Kyle Washington in the second half, who looked confident while hitting 5-of-7 shots from the floor, including two long jumpers. In Gottfried’s UCLA offense, that kind of production from the high post would be a great asset.
N.C. State has one final non-conference game tonight at UNC Greensboro, a team of which it better not overlook. The Spartans are coming off a 55-52 road win at Virginia Tech on Saturday and only lost by eight at Wake Forest in their previous outing. After that one, the Pack will open conference play next Saturday against Pittsburgh in what will be the Panthers’ inaugural ACC game. Jamie Dixon will bring a team of tough-minded players to Raleigh, but it will be their first true road game of the year. It would certainly be helpful to N.C. State if T.J. Warren didn’t have to carry them on his back. That back may be beginning to feel the burden of all that weight.