Coming off their first loss of the season, the now 16th-ranked NC State Wolfpack return to Raleigh to take on instate foe UNC-Asheville on Friday at PNC Arena.
Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack were highly regarded coming into the 2012-13 season, ranked sixth in the nation to begin the year. The team certainly looked the part in its first three games, disposing of Miami-Ohio (97-59) at home and then Penn State (72-55) and Massachusetts (94-76) as part of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. However, the Wolfpack were unable to finish the job in Bayamon, getting routed themselves in the championship game by Oklahoma State, 76-56.
Eddie Biedenbach's Bulldogs have struggled out of the gate, beginning the 2012-13 season with just one win in their first five games. UNC-Asheville won its season-opener against Western Carolina (71-61), but has lost four straight since, including all three as part of the same tournament in Bayamon, with losses to Tennessee (75-68), Akron (81-63) and finally Providence (72-67).
NC State has won all 17 previous meetings with UNC-Asheville, including last year's season-opener, an 84-75 victory in Raleigh.
Despite forcing 20 turnovers and placing three Bulldogs in double-figure scoring, UNC-Asheville came up empty handed in its trip to Puerto Rico with a five-point loss to Providence in the final round of the event. The loss spoiled a solid performance by Trent Meyer from the perimeter and a strong outing by Jeremy Atkinson in the paint. Meyer led the team with 20 points, thanks in large part to four 3-pointers, while Atkinson recorded a double- double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Keith Hornsby got in the act offensively as well, chipping in 10 points in defeat.
Despite the loss, the scoring was a welcome site for a team that is netting just 65.6 ppg on the year, on a mere .421 shooting. Atkinson has been the go- to-guy in the early stages of the season, leading the way in both scoring (17.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.4 rpg). Meyer (10.0 ppg) is also in double figures, but while he leads the team with six 3-pointers, he has converted just 23.1 percent of the time from behind the arc (6-of-26). Hornsby (9.8 ppg) and D.J. Cunningham (9.2 ppg) provide some scoring depth.
The Wolfpack were humming along until they ran into the Cowboys last time out. NC State shot a season-low .421 from the floor overall, and endured foul trouble by its frontcourt leaders, as Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie both fouled out down the stretch. All-ACC guard Lorenzo Brown struggled as well, finishing the game with just six points, five rebounds and one assist. Freshmen Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren led the way in defeat with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
It remains to be seen if the stunning loss to OSU will be an anomaly or not. Despite netting just 56 points, NC State is still averaging a healthy 79.8 ppg on the year, while delivering on 50.6 percent of its shots overall. The scoring pool is deep, with four players averaging double figures and two more on the cusp. The NC State gameplan runs through Brown, who is averaging 9.8 ppg, while doling out 5.5 apg. With a ton of veteran leadership, it is surprising to see a pair of freshmen atop the scoring list, as Warren (16.5 ppg) and Purvis (13.0 ppg) have made immediate impacts in Raleigh. Howell (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Leslie (10.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) give the team more than enough frontcourt punch.