By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – It wasn’t a dominating, nor decisive 57-42 win for the N.C. State Wolfpack over Lee University on Thursday.
Rather, it was a look at a team that was seeking new on-court leadership following a season that ended in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament.
Led by double-digit finishes from Akela Maize (13 points), Chelsea Nelson (10 points), and Aislinn Konig (10 points), as well as nine points from Kaila Ealey and eight from Maryland transfer Kiara Leslie, N.C State heavily relied on turnovers and work from the free throw line to keep the Flames from engulfing the confines of the hardwood in Reynolds Coliseum.
“We were playin’ hard and at times puttin’ pressure on ‘em,” Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore said.
“From where I was standin’, I saw a lot of breakdowns. We’ve gotta pay attention to detail, we gotta make sure were getting’ good shots.”
Lee put forth a solid defensive effort and limited NC State to 29 percent shooting from the field and 18 percent beyond the arc.
Not good enough according to Moore.
“We knew they could shoot the heck out of it, and they did a nice job in the second half,” he said.
“We struggled offensively to score the ball. We’re going to have to figure that out. We’re going to have to put up more points than that to be successful at this level. Like I said, a lot of work ahead of us, a long way to go.”
With the graduation of guards Miah Spencer, Dominique Wilson, Ashley Wiliams, and forward Jennifer Mathurin, the Wolfpack has to make up the 44 points per game that group provided in compiling an 86-43 record while at State.
Relying heavily on a four-out-one-in offensive set, N.C. State will have to dig deep to see who will fill that void, and the exhibition tune-up against Lee shone a bright light on that deficiency.
“We don’t have a lot of depth on the perimeter right now,” Moore stated.
“We’ve got two kids, transfers, sitting out, so we don’t have a ton of perimeter players. The opportunity is definitely there and we definitely need somebody to step up.”
Sophomore guards Konig, Ealey, and Lucky Rudd have that opportunity, in addition to Leslie, while freshmen Kai Crutchfield and Kayla Jones will need time to adjust to the pace of the collegiate game.
The numbers told the tale.
Konig, Ealey, and Leslie went 3-of-6, 3-of-5, 3-of-7, respectively from the field, but Rudd, Crutfield, and Jones finished a combined 0-for-16.
“I’m disappointed in our shooting – I mean we’ve got kids that can shoot better than they are,” Moore said.
“For whatever reason for some of them it’s the first time they’ve had a significant role here and maybe they’re nervous. Especially since this is the first time we’ve come out and really played an opponent, and had the lights on and popcorn poppin’ and all that. So, it is a little different than a scrimmage.”
Though not a young team, it is one that will take some time to come together as it appeared disjointed and lacked timing in ball movement offensively and in positioning defensively.
“Communication is really key,” Nelson pointed out.
“We need to do a better job of making sure every single person on the court knows what we’re doing and no one questions what we’re doing. We need to ask the coaches what’s happening in a game. Communication is a big factor and just hustling and getting to a spot.”
“Honestly having everybody buy in to the goal of the team,” Maize added.
“A lot of times, players are thinkin’ about themselves, but if everyone thinks about the team, that will help us a lot too. As a team we have to get used to playing with each other a lot more. As games go on, we’ll learn what others do and where they’ll be, so it doesn’t create turnovers.”
With both the players and coaching staff understanding they have a lot of work to do, N.C. State next prepares to host Jacksonville on Friday, a matchup that the Wolfpack coach knows will fully test the work and adjustments that will be made this week in practice.
“As we expected, we’ve got a long way to go,” Moore concluded.
“Hopefully we got that (game) out of our system because in a little over a week, we’re gonna be playin’ a Division I opponent that is gonna come in here with a lot of talent, a lot of speed and athleticism; so we better figure it out in a hurry.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport