NEW Y ORK — The first 20 minutes on the world’s grandest basketball stage belonged to Shabazz Napier.
Unfortunately for UConn, the final 20 — and a hard-fought 69-65 victory in Tuesday night’s Jimmy V Classic — was all Richard Howell.
N.C. State’s broad-shouldered 6-foot-8, 257-pound forward plowed through the Huskies’ interior throughout the second half, turning a back-and-forth, one-possession game into the Wolfpack’s fifth victory of the season.
Howell scored four points late — including a put-back on the Wolfpack’s 12 offensive board —to open up a 57-53 lead. C.J. Leslie followed with a fastbreak dunk, and tight contest at Madison Square Garden suddenly became N.C. State’s to lose.
A costly traveling violation on DeAndre Daniels hurt, and so did a second-chance dunk from Leslie. The dagger, though, was from Howell, who shrugged off Niels Giffey for a layup (plus the foul) with 1:14 remaining. He missed the ensuing free throw, and fittingly, N.C. State grabbed the offensive rebound to earn an additional possession.
Napier, who entered with just 17 first half points in his past six games, buried a trio of 3-pointers in the opening minutes as UConn opened up an early 20-9 advantage (DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun also added longballs).
After 10 points in the first five minutes, Napier didn’t score again until the 4:49 mark of the first half, burying a step-back jumper that broke a 24-24 tie. He went into the intermission with 15 points and finished with just 19.
Unwilling to let Napier single-handedly carry his team through the second half, N.C. State swarmed the junior guard, forcing the supporting cast to step up. And it did — to a degree.
Enosch Wolf, who got the nod over Tyler Olander down the stretch, scored eight of his 12 points in the second half, including a Napier-like fallaway that tied the game, 51-51, with under eight minutes to play. R.J. Evans, returning from a two-game absence (sternalclavicular sprain), made hustle plays—tipped balls for second chance opportunities, deflections, steals—but failed to convert around the basket.
Plagued by foul trouble for most of the season, Olander avoided the “ticky-tack” foul, but he had no answer for Howell and N.C. State up front.
The Wolfpack (5-2) held an 18-7 rebounding edge in the second half. Howell finished with 13 points and 10 boards (all in the final 20 minutes) while Leslie added 16 points and 13 rebounds.