Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 3/14/13
GREENSBORO, N.C. To understand North Carolina State's basketball team is to recognize the Wolfpack's range in this ACC tournament: It covers the entire spectrum of expectations. The fifth-seeded Wolfpack could have gone down Thursday to 12th-seeded Virginia Tech, or they could end up cutting the nets down Sunday afternoon with an ACC title to boot -- they are that mercurial. Really, the Wolfpack was much of that in their 80-63 victory Thursday in the opening round of the 60th ACC Tournament. They were on offensively, often putting together highlight-reel stretches that were followed by mind lapses on defense. In the case of junior C.J. Leslie, focus was an issue on the defensive end. And Leslie, more than anyone else on the roster, is why NC State remains so complex, especially when it comes to prognosticating the team's immediate and long-term future. In actuality, the Wolfpack didnt need a dialed-in Leslie to beat the last-place Hokies. He could have remained in Raleigh and Mark Gottfried's team still would have been double-digit points better. But Leslie played, and at times he did some nice things on offense. He finished with a respectable 15 points and seven rebounds. but the rock on this day was once again Richard Howell. The 6-foot-9 senior forward was typically workman-like, finishing with 22 points and 12 rebounds. He was quicker to the ball than Virginia Techs bigs and went up with brute strength and a blend of his increasingly fine-tuned skill set. Howell isn't a bull in the china shop, as some observers inaccurately describe him. He's more graceful than that. And he's not about individual stuff, either. Howell's will and desire should be the team's every-day theme, instead of Leslie's mesmerizing proclivity to jar the team off track at any time. He didn't do that on Thursday. N.C. State was more Howell than Leslie and that's a good thing. "I thought Richard was as he always is for us, Mr. Reliable, Mr. Dependable," Gottfried said. "Hes there every night, he gets rebounds. He scored at will in the first half and continued in the second half. Hes the same every day. Hes a big key for what we were able to do today." The Wolfpack (23-9) wore red t-shirts during warmups that read "Rise To The Occasion" across the chests. Senior wing Scott Wood had no clue what it meant, while revealing the players first learned of the shirts not long before tip-off. Howell wasn't sure about the shirts, either, but he liked them. "We do feel like we have to rise to the occasion," he said of the shirts. "We feel like we have a long road ahead of us playing tomorrow, and then playing Saturday and Sunday. We want to get that done." Getting to Sunday is a long-term deal for the Wolfpack, but its doable, especially if the team resembles more the approach of Howell than Leslie. That means improved defense, as well. The Hokies shot 41.7 percent from the floor, and that's with the nations leading scorer, Erick Green, going just 5 of 19 for 15 points. The other Hokies got plenty of uncharacteristically good looks. Howell said the 'Pack needs to be sharper on defense Friday against Virginia in the quarterfinals, if they are to have any chance of winning this tournament. "I feel like we were sharp but we definitely werent sharp enough," he said. "We definitely had a few defensive lapses. It's something that we can definitely fix, and hopefully by tomorrow correct it." Balance is also key for N. State. Wood and freshman forward T.J. Warren each chipped in 13 points and point guard Lorenzo Brown handed out 12 assists. NC State dominated the glass by 15 boards clearly a trickle-down effect from Howell. To advance Friday, a Howell-led Wolfpack will have a much better chance than a Leslie-led Wolfpack. NC State might be a tad easier to predict, too.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Aaron Judge chips tooth in postgame celebration

Odell Beckham Jr. wants to be NFL's highest-paid player

John Elway confirms Broncos were interested in Tony Romo

Mike Tomlin: 'Consequences' for Steelers in Bell's absence

Clay Helton says OJ Simpson would not be allowed at USC practice

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

It’s ‘obvious’ Panthers have ‘big plans’ for Christian McCaffrey?

Kyle Shanahan claps back at Matt Ryan

The Astros are going from really good to possibly great

John Harbaugh: Ravens exploring signing Kaepernick

Bryce Harper blames ejection, meltdown on pregame playlist

Defining Darvish: Is a deadline deal looming?

The 'Old Tom Brady is still the Ol' Tom Brady' quiz

BIG3 Week 6: Should we begin the MVP discussion as we head to Dallas?

Three Up, Three Down: Adrian Beltre is a national treasure

The 10 craziest NFL offseason stories

Box Score 7/27: USMNT brings home the Gold Cup

The 'Cooperstown: The New Class' quiz

For the revitalized Pirates, trade deadline has newfound meaning

Every MLB team's best and worst deadline trade from the last 25 years

The 'Kyrie revolts against the King' quiz

Box Score 7/26: Nothing but grand slams

The most memorable moments from the class of 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees

BIG3 Ref Hotline Bling: James White slams the phone down

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

BIG3 Week 6: Should we begin the MVP discussion as we head to Dallas?

The 'Old Tom Brady is still the Ol' Tom Brady' quiz

The 10 craziest NFL offseason stories

For the revitalized Pirates, trade deadline has newfound meaning

The 'Cooperstown: The New Class' quiz

The 'Kyrie revolts against the King' quiz

BIG3 Ref Hotline Bling: James White slams the phone down

The 'When George Brett went completely batty' quiz

Finding the possible Achilles' heel for baseball’s best teams

Getaway Day: A pair of aces get lost in the shuffle

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker