No. 19 NC State prepares to go without Brown
North Carolina State looks likely to be without one of its top players against Atlantic Coast Conference-leading Miami.
Coach Mark Gottfried sounded doubtful about point guard Lorenzo Brown's chances of playing for the No. 19 Wolfpack on Saturday against the No. 14 Hurricanes due to a sprained left ankle.
"We'll see how he feels tomorrow," Gottfried said Friday. "The probability in my mind for him to be recovered enough to cut and move and sprint and jump is pretty slim. I think we'll have to prepare as if he's not going to play and then we'll see and go from there."
Brown was hurt when he stepped on a defender's foot in the first half of Tuesday's loss at Virginia. He didn't return to the game, hasn't practiced since and has been wearing a walking boot.
Brown, a 6-foot-5 junior, is a preseason all-ACC pick averaging 13 points and an ACC-best 6.9 assists per game in his second season as the Wolfpack's full-time point guard. His presence in the backcourt — he's started 59 straight games dating to the final game of Sidney Lowe's tenure in 2011 — was a big reason why N.C. State was picked to win the league for the first time in nearly four decades.
While Gottfried didn't rule Brown out completely, he also didn't rule out the possibility that he could miss multiple games, either.
"We have to respond to how we're going to play if Lorenzo can't play — and he may not play for a while," Gottfried said. "I don't know. It could be a week. Who knows?"
If Brown can't go, freshman starter Rodney Purvis would likely move over from the wing to the point, while freshman Tyler Lewis would see bigger minutes off the bench after seeing only spot duty in recent games.
Both players were McDonald's All-Americans last season and shared the point guard duties for the rest of the Virginia game. The 6-3 Purvis has started all but two games and is averaging about 10 points per game. The 5-11 Lewis hadn't played more than 6 minutes in an ACC game — he didn't play at all against Maryland — before playing 15 minutes against the Cavaliers.
"Tyler and Rodney both have point guard experience so they need to step in there and do a good job like I know they're capable of doing," senior Scott Wood said. "Obviously if Zo doesn't play, it's going to be a big hurt for us. But at the same time, I feel we have players who can step in and contribute in his absence."
N.C. State (16-5, 5-3) has just eight scholarship players and has used primarily a six-man rotation this year, so any absence by Brown would be a problem — even if it's only the game against Miami (16-3, 7-0).
"We're doing the same thing in practice just without him," Lewis said. "Hopefully, if he's not able to play, we can come in and make an impact during the game. We're probably not going to do as well as Zo because Zo is the best point guard in the country. But other than that, it's just come in and play with a lot of confidence."
N.C. State has shown a pattern of playing well in big games at home this year. It's already beaten Duke and North Carolina as part of a 12-0 record at PNC Arena, while the Wolfpack's three league losses have come by a combined six points on the road.
If that trend continues, N.C. State will respond to the challenge of facing the surging Hurricanes in a matchup of ranked teams. The question is whether Purvis and Lewis can do enough to make up for Brown's likely absence and keep the Wolfpack perfect at home.
"We've just got to be ready to play no matter our classification or anything like that," Purvis said. "We were really good players in high school, we've got really good resumes of being good players so this is an opportunity to show it right now."