BLACKSBURG, Va. — Forward T.J. Warren led all scorers with 31 points and lifted North Carolina State to a 71-64 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday in Cassell Coliseum.
Warren, a candidate for the ACC’s Player of the Year award, played his most efficient game of the season. The sophomore finished 12-for-21 from the floor.
“From the start it felt good,” Warren said. “There was some open space on the wing, so I just tried to attack it and just stop-and-pop with the floater or the mid-range.”
N.C. State (16-10, 7-7 in the ACC), by getting back to .500 in conference play, tied Maryland for seventh place.
With four regular season games remaining and in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, the Wolfpack needed the win in a big way.
“It’s a very important win for our team,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “Virginia Tech had been playing really well their last three games. … We had a great start and I thought T.J. was terrific again.”
Forward Kyle Washington added 13 points and five rebounds for the Wolfpack.
The Hokies made it interesting late in the game when point guard Devin Wilson hit two free throws with 36 seconds remaining, cutting North Carolina State’s lead to 67-63.
Wolfpack point guard Tyler Lewis hit six free throws down the stretch to salt the game away. Lewis finished with eight points and a career-high 11 assists.
Virginia Tech forward Jarell Eddie led the Hokies with 14 points. Eddie, the Hokies’ leading scorer, scored in double-figures only once in the previous five games.
Wilson continued his impressive play, adding 14 points and nine assists.
Aside from the mounting losses, the theme of the Hokies’ 2013-14 season has been the injuries.
Guards Adam Smith and Ben Emelogu both were in street clothes, and forward Cadarian Raines was available but did not play because of illness. The three combine to average 29.4 points per game.
Emelogu and Smith have missed a combined 18 games because of injury.
Hokies coach James Johnson pointed to his young players’ increased minutes as a reason for the team’s struggles.
“I think that’s kind of contributing a little bit to some of the turnovers,” Johnson said. “(Committing) 17 turnovers it too much for us. We’re getting tired and turn the basketball over. Not playing as smart as we need to play.”
Virginia Tech’s zone defense started the same way it did Tuesday against Virginia, giving up back-to-back 3-pointers to open the game. This time, it was Warren knocking down both jumpers to give the Wolfpack an early lead.
Warren, who entered the game averaging a team-high 23.0 points per game, scored 10 points in the opening 9:15. He finished with 17 in the half.
“I thought T.J. Warren did a great job,” Johnson said. “I thought he was aggressive, and I thought he drove the ball against our zone. He did a very good job.”
N.C. State would not remain hot, however. Virginia Tech clamped down on the defensive end and the Wolfpack missed their next eight shots, finishing 4-for-24 from long range.
The Hokies worked themselves back into the game, thanks to a strong first half from Eddie. He scored 10 points before the break, passing Brian Chase for 37th on Virginia Tech’s all-time scoring list.
N.C. State responded by going on a 9-0 run in a matter of 1:53, led by Warren and guard Desmond Lee. Lewis distributed nine of his 12 assists in the first half.
The Wolfpack led, 35-25, at the break.
NOTES: North Carolina State earned its fourth straight victory over the Hokies and leads the all-time series, 38-14. … N.C. State played its third straight ACC road game. The Wolfpack is one of six ACC teams charged with playing three consecutive conference road games. It’s the first time they’ve done that since 1990-91. … Virginia Tech visits Duke on Tuesday, while North Carolina State heads home to host North Carolina on Wednesday.
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