Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie would have made the late Jim Valvano proud on Tuesday, as the frontcourt duo combined for 29 points and 23 rebounds to lead No. 25 North Carolina State to a 69-65 victory over Connecticut in the finale of the Jimmy V Classic.
With Valvano's immortal "Don't Ever Give Up" sentiment sewn on the backs of their jerseys, the Wolfpack adhered the former NC State coach's credo in a tight matchup at Madison Square Garden.
Howell, who missed part of the first half after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head, finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Leslie added 16 and 13 in the triumph.
"I was a little shaken up from the head injury. I had a kind of stinger in the first half," Howell said. "We just had to come out and give it our all. It was just me going out there and going hard."
Lorenzo Brown checked in with 16 points as well, while Scott Wood netted 13 for the Wolfpack (5-2), who had lost two of three coming in to nearly fall out of the top 25.
Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright netted 19 and 18 points, respectively, as UConn (6-2) had its two-game winning streak snapped.
"I felt like we lost our intensity in the second half," Napier admitted. "They got a lot of offensive rebounds."
The largest lead for either team in the second half was four before the Wolfpack broke a tie game by scoring on three straight possessions. Leslie made two free throws, Howell tipped in a miss and Leslie went coast-to-coast following a steal and finished with a two-handed slam for a 59-53 lead with just over four minutes to play.
A Boatright 3-pointer a little later cut the deficit to 61-58, but Wood fed Howell down low for a lay-in while being fouled. Howell missed the free throw, but NC State came away with the rebound.
It was a a free throw contest from there, and the Wolfpack made enough from the stripe down the stretch to come away victorious.
Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun each hit from long range during an early 13-2 run that gave UConn a 20-9 lead.
NC State answered with the next eight points, and a pair of Brown buckets in the final 70 seconds yielded a 32-31 lead at the break.
Valvano, who led NC State to a national championship in 1983, lost his battle with cancer in 1993. He was also an assistant coach at UConn (1970-71) ... This was NC State's first win in this event, having lost to Gonzaga in its only other appearance in 2002 ... The Wolfpack's leading scorer, T.J. Warren, battled foul trouble and finished with two points -- 13 below his average coming in.