On paper, the match-up between North Carolina State and Oklahoma State seemed to favor the Wolfpack. NC State has a one of the best rebounders in the country in Richard Howell while C.J. Leslie can, at times, be relentless on the glass. Meanwhile, the Cowboys were one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation last year. The math seemed simple: Even given an off-shooting night, NC State would win the battle of the boards. Even moving beyond the frontcourt, NC State’s cast of skilled veterans and talented rookies was supposed to make this team the easy favorite in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Yet when the final buzzer sounded, the Wolfpack was a 20-point loser to the Cowboys. What went wrong?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie failed to make an impact on the game because they were hampered by foul trouble. The two talented players couldn’t stay on the court because of the relentless interior attack of Oklahoma State. Both players fouled out, with Howell tallying 16 minutes and Leslie managing 17. With those two gone, the Wolfpack lost their advantage in rebounding and ultimately ended up with only 27 rebounds to the Cowboys’ 42. By nullifying NC State’s clearest plus, Travis Ford’s team opened the door for an upset.