N.C. States C.J. Leslie

PNC ARENA/RALEIGH—Although it was Senior Night for N.C. State, the evening belonged to a junior perhaps also playing his final game in front of the PNC Arena crowd along with two freshmen at the outset of their college careers. The end result was an 81-66 win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Wolfpack’s final home game this season.

Seniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell both entered the contest on the cusp of additional individual accolades. Wood needed just 10 three-pointers from tying Rodney Monroe’s school record, but tonight he only converted one trifecta—part of a first-half four-point play—that nevertheless gives Wood 313 for his college career, tying him with Duke’s Jason Williams for eighth-most in ACC history. Howell was only nine rebounds shy of 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for his career, which will make him the first Wolfpack player to reach that milestone since Tommy Burleson. However, Howell only managed to haul down five boards, his fewest since Dec. 22 against St. Bonaventure.

Still, that did not stop Wolfpack Head Coach Mark Gottfried from appreciating the moment and the growth of his senior starters.

“They epitomize what you want in a basketball player in that they’re tremendously unselfish,” said Gottfried. “Their motive is to win, and the individual things that are going to come for them, they trust in the fact that if they just try to win, those things will come later.”

Gottfried reserved particular commendation for Howell, who has gone from an irregular contributor his first two years to one of the league’s most respected competitors.

“I’ve watched Richard change physically, I’ve watched him change emotionally, I’ve watched him become … a young man,” Gottfried gushed. “He’s grown up. He’s a good, good guy. When I first got here, he was moody; you had to kinda break through this wall to get him to trust you.”

Wake Forest built a seven-point lead early in the first half. However, renewed defensive pressure from N.C. State dramatically turned the tide to the tune of a 15-point Wolfpack halftime lead. The advantage grew to as much as 25 before the final score receded back to the midway margin.

Devin Thomas—who had 25 points and 14 rebounds in Wake Forest’s Jan. 22 win over N.C. State—finished tonight’s game with 13 points and 11 boards. However, the Demon Deacons were without freshman guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who had started every game this season, due to strep throat. In his stead, fellow freshman Madison Jones—a graduate of Ravenscroft School in Raleigh—got his fourth college start and finished with 10 points and a career-best six assists.

While N.C. State’s senior starters had relatively off nights, two freshmen picked up the slack. T.J. Warren finished with 15 points, six rebounds and four steals, while Rodney Purvis, again coming off the bench, added 14 points, going 3-4 from three-point range.

However, the real leader of the Pack was C.J. Leslie, who had one of his most complete games of the 2012-13 campaign. Leslie netted 19 points to go with 10 rebounds, his ninth double-double this season. He also matched his season highs of four assists and four blocked shots, Most astoundingly, Leslie did not commit a turnover, the first time that’s happened since Feb. 29, 2012.

If, in fact, Leslie has played his final home game wearing a N.C. State uniform, leave it to Wake Forest Head Coach Jeff Bzdelik to cap the occasion by following his praise of Leslie’s talent and athleticism with perhaps the most oddly accurate assessment of the mercurial Wolfpack star.

“When he wants to be, if he really wants to be, he can be,” Bzdelik said.

N.C. State (21-8, 10-6 ACC) finishes the season with a 16-1 record at home, the only blemish being a last second tip-in loss to Miami. It’s the first time since 1988-89 that the Wolfpack have beaten North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest at home in the same season.

But that’s already in the past. N.C. State finishes their regular season this Saturday at Florida State before their thoughts turn totally to postseason play, starting with next week’s ACC Tournament.