GAME NOTES: The Tennessee Volunteers begin a season-long four-game homestand on Wednesday night when they welcome the NC State Wolfpack to Thompson-Boling Arena for a non-conference showdown.
NC State is coming off a lengthy homestand of its own, having gone 6-1 in its six-game stay in Raleigh over the past month, with its most recent triumph over Detroit on Saturday (82-79) extending its winning streak to five. The Wolfpack is now 7-2 on the season, although they lost their only road contest of the year at Cincinnati on Nov. 12, 68-57.
Tennessee pieced together its second three-game winning streak of the young season following a Dec. 7 home victory over Tennessee Tech (84-63), but in arguably its most difficult task to date on Saturday, it fell on the road to undefeated, nationally-ranked Wichita State, 70-61, to dip to 6-3 overall.
The programs have only faced off eight times before and not since 1994. NC State has a 5-3 advantage over Tennessee.
The Wolfpack appeared to have their latest game well in hand leading by 18 points with under eight minutes to play, but while Detroit ripped off a furious late-game run to make it a single-possession contest in the final minute, the home team held on by the skin of its teeth. The squad shot 50 percent from the field in the triumph, including 10-of-21 from 3-point range, and it was paced by the efforts of T.J. Warren with 29 points. Ralston Turner was also outstanding, shooting 6-of-8 from beyond the arc for 21 points off the bench.
On the season, NC State outshoots its opponents from the field, 49.2 percent to 40.1 percent, and it lives comfortably in the green with its scoring (+9.8), rebounding (+3.3) and turnover (+2.9) margins. Warren is the nation's sixth-best scorer with 23.3 points per game, doing so on nearly 55 percent from the field while also grabbing a team-high 6.8 rebounds per contest. Anthony Barber (12.0 ppg), Desmond Lee (10.8 ppg) and Turner (9.9 ppg) are all solid complementary options.
The Vols put up a great fight at Wichita State over the weekend, but after 14 lead changes in the first 30 minutes of action, the Shockers pulled away with a late 12-2 run. Although they committed just eight turnovers on the afternoon, it was far from a clean game, as they shot only 38.5 percent from the field while also failing to impress at the foul line (15-of-24). Jordan McRae was the only player to finish in double figures, as he poured in a season-high 26 points on 8-of-17 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Jeronne Maymon was also strong with nine points and nine rebounds.
Tennessee has displayed stellar ability on both ends of the floor this season, scoring 10 more points per game (74.7) than it allows (64.7). Its disciplined style of play has allowed for a +2.8 turnover margin and 7.7 more free-throw tries than its opponents per game. McRae is the catalyst on the perimeter with 19.6 points per game, while Jarnell Stokes (14.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Maymon (9.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) make up an imposing frontcourt duo.
In a vacuum, NC State has been the more impressive team this season, and Warren's excellence up front will likely be able to neutralize the Vols' strength in the paint, but with the Wolfpack still unproven on the road, figure for Tennessee to improve to 5-0 at home this season.
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