With plenty of new faces and a brand new up-tempo offense, Sidney Lowe wanted to show the Pack faithful just why he's been so excited this offseason. Soon after the tip, it was pretty apparent. Tracy Smith went to work immediately, maneuvering in the post and powering to the rim to notch the first 5 points of the game, and he didn't stop there. Smith kept up that pace all night, and although he was facing a much smaller, weaker opponent, he was impressive to say the least. Jump hooks, drop steps and great body control helped Tracy to a game high 21 points on 9-11 shooting. Smith looked stronger, quicker, and more lean than he did last season, all of which he attributes to hard work this offseason. (He also went 3-3 from the line, a place where he struggled last season)
When Smith wasn't punishing St. Paul's from the paint, Scott Wood was reigning down threes from the outside. The heralded freshman known for his sharp-shooting, showed NC State fans what all the fuss was about, as he was a perfect 4-4 from beyond the arc. His quick release and confident nature had the crowd dialed in every time he touched the ball. Starting at the SF position, Wood not only shot the ball well, but he did his part on defense and didn't commit a single turnover in 22 minutes.
Both Smith and Wood were impressive, but equally as good was junior point man, Javi Gonzalez. After two years of taking lumps and learning what it takes to play point guard in the ACC, Gonzalez looked in control and eager to push the pace. His quick hands and aggressive defense led to a team high 4 steals, which helped the Pack get out on the break. When the pace picked up, Javi didn't look the least bit overwhelmed, making the right passes at the right times and ended up with 6 assists with only 3 turnovers. This gave Javi an impressive 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, which is great news for a guard plagued by turnovers early in his career. Gonzalez also pitched in 5 points and 5 boards for good measure.
The faster pace and smarter play was refreshing to the 5,000 in attendance and gave a preview of the style of play Sidney Lowe has been talking about since he was hired in 2006. Although it was only the opening exhibition game, this Wolfpack team seems like a smarter more athletic group than last years team.
While there were many bright spots for the Wolfpack, there were also a few areas where improvements will need to be made. In the first half the Pack struggled to out-rebound the smaller Tigers, and went into halftime with the rebounding totals dead even at 20-20. A Sidney Lowe halftime speech later, and State's rebounding was on point, out-boarding St. Paul's 30-14 in the second half. While much of the rebounding was accomplished by team effort (eight players with 4 or more rebounds) a lot of the praise can be given to two freshmen 'bigs'.
DeShawn Painter and Jordan Vandenberg were not in the starting line-up, but you can believe, if Thursday was any indication, they will be seeing their fair share of court time this season. Painter was a jolt of energy off the bench and provided Sidney Lowe with a different look at the four position when senior Dennis Horner is on the bench. A true trouble maker around the rim, DeShawn was relentless on defense, altering shots and pulling down rebounds in traffic. He even pulled his weight on the offensive end with 8 points. Painter is still very raw, but his non-stop motor and aggressive nature will certainly make him hard to keep off the court.
Vandenberg is another player who turned some heads with his play in the exhibition. The 7 footer from Australia, who many envisioned to be a 'project player' was anything but. A thunderous dunk, a soft midrange two, a perfectly executed high-low , and a block and stare down that had the Pack fans on their feet, were just a few examples. Although he did get a little sloppy with 5 turnovers (most of which were bullet passes to cutters at close range) that can likely be chalked up to the first game jitters, Jordan was impressive. Down the road you can bet Jordan will most certainly be something special for the Wolfpack.
With a week to prepare before the season opens, Sidney Lowe will have to make a few interesting decisions. CJ Williams played a solid game, but so did his backup Farnold Degand. Degand really pushed the pace and gave the Pack another quality ball handler in the backcourt, while Williams is the bigger more physical of the two. It will most likely come down to match-ups, but Degand was really impressive dishing out 4 assists and only being responsible for one turnover. Even better news than that was that Farnold looked to be 100% after two years of knee troubles.
Box Score (click to enlarge)