Wednesday, November 16, 2011

North Carolina State 60, Princeton 58

[recap] [box score]

It's a little difficult to get a read on North Carolina State after this one. They were without forward C.J. Leslie, their best player, who was sitting out the final game of a three-game NCAA suspension. Scott Wood started at two-guard, then sprained his ankle inside a couple of minutes and didn't return. And it's always tricky to evaluate a team against Princeton's unique style.

But amid that muddled picture, one player shone through: point guard Lorenzo Brown.

Brown is a scorer by nature who is playing point guard, partly out of necessity, and partly, presumably, because he's actually pretty good at it. Brown is terrific off the dribble, both going to the bucket and with the midrange jumper. He's an excellent defender, too -- he had five steals against the Tigers. But what impressed me most was his passing ability, and even more importantly, his willingness to give up the rock.

Brown had eight assists. A couple of them could be described as "nice," but for the most part, they weren't particularly eyebrow-raising. What was so impressive, though, was his understanding of when to pass and when to shoot. A player's feel for this decision-making falls along a spectrum -- even the true chuckers understand that they have to pass once in a while -- but it's also an instinct that is honed by years of playing and learning what is appropriate for your position.

All this is to say that it would be reasonable for a natural off-guard, especially one who is only a sophomore, to be a bit trigger-happy. But Brown wasn't. He led the team with 13 shot attempts, but that was appropriate given the absences of Leslie and Wood. I don't recall a single shot he forced.

The game-winning shot was a perfect example of what I'm talking about. With the game tied at 58 and the shot clock off, Brown went left over a high screen from DeShawn Painter. Painter's defender showed, giving Brown's defender time to recover. The window here was small: Brown had less than a second to decide whether to keep the ball or hit Painter, who had popped to the top of the key. Brown made the right decision: He assessed the situation, saw that his route to the bucket was blocked, and dished to Painter who drilled a 17-footer with four seconds left.

A simple play? Yes. One that you'd expect a lot of point guards to make? Sure. But scoring guards at the college level don't always find themselves in the screen and roll situation. Brown handled it perfectly, and (with Painter's help) won his team the game.

North Carolina State notes: Alex Johnson is an experienced transfer from Cal State-Bakersfield, eligible due to the transfer rules for graduate students, but he made poor decisions and plays throughout. He acquitted himself with a layup to go up 53-51 and a three-pointer from the corner to make it 56-53 -- the latter, I'll point out, after Brown penetrated a rare 2-3 zone from Princeton and kicked it to the wing, who found Johnson open in the corner ... Princeton hit six of seven three-pointers in the first half, in part because the Wolf Pack was so pre-occupied with the backdoor cut. If the cut isn't open, Princeton players are taught to rub off the ballhandler for a handoff and an open look. With the NC State players so focused on the backdoor cut, the on-ball defender (usually a post player) was responsible for stepping out briefly on the handoff, which they didn't do at all in the first half, leaving a ton of wide-open looks for the Tigers ... NC State did a better job defending the handoff in the second half, though they did give up an easy layup late when both defenders reacted to the handoff, leaving the screener an easy roll to the basket ... Brown's game wasn't perfect; he did miss the front end of a one-and-one up three with 30 seconds left.

Princeton notes: Douglas Davis was the Tigers' best offensive player all night, hitting three of four threes in the first half and tying the game at 58 on a three-pointer moving right off a high screen. C.J. Williams made a bad show on the play to give Davis the open look ... Princeton doesn't have a lot of isolation offense, and when they do go one-on-one, it's usually Davis doing the work. As a guard, he's going to have the ball in his hands a lot, but the Tigers need to find a way to get the ball to Ian Hummer more in end-of-shot-clock situations. Painter couldn't handle Hummer off the dribble, and yet he was used only sparingly in that situation ... Princeton's bigs, Brendan Connolly and Will Barrett in particular, missed several bunnies in the first half ... Patrick Saunders had a rough game late, taking and missing a bad three with the score 58-55, then missing a wide-open look the next time down with the score the same, forcing Princeton to foul ... the Tigers made all three of their free throw attempts in the second half after making just three of nine in the first half.

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