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    Unheralded Thompson Saves Pack Against Michigan State
     
     

    BY TIM PEELER

     

    RALEIGH, N.C. NC State junior Harold Thompson made the most of his 57 seconds on the floor Saturday night against Michigan State.

     

    The junior from Raeford, the last recruit signed by former Wolfpack coach Norman Sloan, didn’t mind that he was limited to that lone minute, since it happened during some of the most important moments of the No. 18 Wolfpack’s 45-41 victory over the Spartans at Reynolds Coliseum.

     

    His first steal of the season secured the Wolfpack’s fourth consecutive victory and ensured that third-year coach Jim Valvano and his team (4-0) will go into a 10-day break for exams with an unblemished record.

     

    Thompson, inserted in favor of senior guard Dereck Whittenburg as a last-ditch attempt to stop Spartan star Sam Vincent, deflected an inbounds pass from MSU forward Derek Perry to NC State senior guard Sidney Lowe. Teammate Thurl Bailey put the finishing touches on the old-style victory with a pair of free throws with one second remaining.

     

    “Vincent was trying to run me off the top of the pick,” Thompson said. “I knew if I got caught on the pick, he’d get the ball. So when the guard set the pick, I stepped around him and ran right to Vincent and got my hands on the ball.”

     

    Thompson, who prefers to be called “World” by his teammates, has made similar defensive stops in his three seasons with the Wolfpack, including earlier this week against East Carolina’s Johnny Edwards. Last year, Thompson’s defensive play over the final 10 minutes against Wake Forest helped the Wolfpack rally from a 10-point deficit.

     

    “It’s a good role to play,” Thompson said. “I guess if you were just coming into score late in the game, it might be difficult. But on defense, you know what you’re doing. You know your position. Even when I am on the bench, I’m excited. But if I wasn’t mentally into the game, it would be hard.”

     

    Valvano applauded Thompson’s effort in the final minute of the game.

     

    “If we gave game balls, I would give one to Harold,” Valvano said. “He came off the bench with the game on the line and did a great job on Vincent. We used four different defenses on him and nothing seemed to work. Harold did a real nice job on him, though. It kind of looked like a pinball machine out there at the end. Vincent was going side to side and bumper to bumper.

     

    “We kept trying to double-team or switch on him. At the critical point, we said the only way we were going to win the game was to make a steal, and Harold got one.”

     

    The Wolfpack, indeed, had little answer for Vincent, a 6-foot-2 guard who made eight of his 12 shots on the night from all over the court and scored a game-high 16 points. But he and Perry were the only two Spartans to score in double figures on a night when the two run-and-gun teams should have been wearing throw-back jerseys.

     

    The slow-down game both teams made just eight field goals in the second half harkened back to last year, when teams resorted to plodding zone defenses and slow-down offenses to control the tempo of games. The Wolfpack excelled in that style, leading the nation in scoring defense by holding teams to less than 50 points a game.

     

    But, thanks to a rule passed by the NCAA to allow conferences to adopt experimental rules, the ACC will play its games this year with a 19-foot 3-point line and a 30-second shot clock. However, in non-conference games, the opposing coach must agree to play under those rules, as Western Carolina and N.C. A&T did earlier this season.

     

    Michigan State’s Jud Heathcote, however, did not want to play by those rules, even though it would have benefitted his team as well. Instead, he used his famous match-up zone defense to slow down the Wolfpack’s revamped lineup.

     

    “We prefer to play an up-tempo game and they prefer to play up-tempo,” Heathcote said. “But when we are in a zone and they are in a zone and both teams are reluctant to shoot, well, it just happens. We would have preferred to play faster, but it just didn’t develop that way.”

     

    Saturday night, the Wolfpack played the old style to perfection over the last 10 minutes, scoring on eight of its last nine possessions and missing just one field-goal attempt in the latter half of the second period, despite having an off shooting night from its top two scorers.

     

    Whittenburg hit only six of 15 shots for his team-high 12 points, while Bailey made only three of 12 attempts. Lowe was the team’s only consistent outside scorer, making five of his seven shots despite playing all 40 minutes of the game with the flu.

     

    “This style is tough for us to play,” Valvano said. “Some of our shooters didn’t have it tonight. And when you play without the clock, these games can become wars.”

     

    Valvano switched his rotation around to combat the Michigan State zone, inserting freshman Ernie Myers and junior college transfer Alvin Battle into the starting lineup in favor of his two ineffective sophomore big men, Cozell McQueen and Lorenzo Charles. The three-guard offense of Myers, Whittenburg and Lowe netted 30 of the Wolfpack’s 45 points.

     

    The Wolfpack plays its next game on Dec. 21 at Louisville, in its first road contest of the season. Two days later, Valvano and his team go to East Rutherford, N.J., to play West Virginia at the Meadowlands, a game Valvano scheduled to simulate post-season play after last year’s disappointing first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Tennessee-Chattanooga.

     

    You may contact Tim Peeler at tim_peeler@ncsu.edu.


     

     

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