T.J. Warren may start slow, but over the course of forty minutes, no one has been able to stop him completely. Not Pitt, not Syracuse, not Duke, and in Dayton, not Xavier. Last night in the NCAA First Four, Warren missed his first two shots as the Wolfpack opened up its tournament against Xavier in a First Four game, and even worse, he picked up two quick fouls and tweaked his ankle in a defensive effort against the Muskateers. NC State fans must have had a sinking feeling at that point, with their star player on the bench and in foul trouble before the game really seemed to get underway.
Fortunately, basketball is a team game, and his teammates picked him up with solid defense, rebounding and scoring to keep themselves not only in the game but also building a slight lead. To be sure, Xavier was helping out, missing shots they normally would have made and generally being outhustled by the clearly hungrier Wolfpack. At the same time it should be said that State dug down, did what it needed to do and prospered. To say that Xavier simply gave the Wolfpack their lead and ultimately the game would be dead wrong. State took control from them, and for the most part, State kept control until the end.
The game ball probably should go to Sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis. With reserve Cat Barber on the bench for most of the game with flu-like symptoms, complete with nausea and a fever, Lewis took control of the Wolfpack offense, and had perhaps his most effective outing in the 2013-14 season. Lewis had 8 assists, some of them of the spectacular variety, and he also made some shots that kept Xavier at bay. He only scored seven points, but those points came at important times and they kept the Musketeers honest by not allowing them to slack off of him and onto other players — like TJ Warren or Raulston Turner.
For his part, Raulston Turner also had a good game — 17 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 33 minutes, but the most telling part of the shooting guard’s game last night in Dayton was the quality of his shots. He played well under control and made the most of things for the most part when he found himself open and finished 3-7 from three point land and 6-11 overall.
Then came the TJ Warren show. He continued his torrid steak, netting 25 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. In his last 5 games, that’s an average of 30.2 ppg, 7.7 rebounds, with 13 assists and 13 steals overall. Given that pace, it was fitting that it was a record-setting night for the sophomore, as he surpassed Wolfpack legend David Thompson and now holds the all-time record for single-season points. Thompson set the record 39 years ago in 1975. Like Thompson, it’s fair to say that Warren has become a Wolfpack legend in his own right, and one who deserves his place among the greats who have ever donned the uniform of one of college basketball’s storied programs.
For the Wolfpack, the celebration of their underdog victory in Dayton had to be short, as they had to quickly get to the airport to catch a plane and prepare for their game on Thursday. They next play #5 seed Saint Louis in Orlando and will once again be the underdogs and the lower seed. Somehow, with T.J. Warren and a full cast of characters by his side, it doesn’t feel that way, but at this time of the year more than any other, it’s one game at a time, and the motto is simple: Survive. Advance. That’s what State did tonight, and that’s just what they plan to do on Thursday.