NC State’s Barber proves to be cut above Pitt defense


GREENSBORO, N.C. — Cats are known for being fast, and Cat Barber is no exception.

North Carolina State’s starting point guard, whose given name is Anthony, proved as much when he used his speed to great effect on Wednesday night, scoring a career-high 34 points, 21 of which came in the first half, to run past Pitt in an ACC tournament second round game. The Panthers lost 81-70.

As Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon worked through all the ways that Barber hurt his team, he came to a simple conclusion.

“It was just his night,” Dixon said.

Barber’s career-high entering the game was 28, set earlier this year. He didn’t miss any of the 12 free throws he attempted and tied his mark for most 3-pointers made in a game with four.

By doing all of that, he attacked what has been an area of debilitating weakness for Pitt for much of the season, ranking last in the 15-team conference in opponent field goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 45 percent from the field on average, ninth in points given up per game (65.3) and ninth in opposing 3 point percentage (33 percent).  

“I thought they had trouble containing him and stopping his penetration,” NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “And then we got ahead and they tried to press us. At that point it becomes really difficult to contain Cat.”

Conversely, the seventh-seeded Wolfpack (20-12, 8-10 ACC) as a unit have been strong offensively all season, boasting the 4th best-scoring offense in the league at 70.6 points per game, ranking fifth in 3-point percentage at 36 percent and ninth in field goal percentage at 44 percent.

The mismatch is one with which the 10th-seeded Panthers (19-14, 8-10 ACC) were already familiar, having been defeated by the Wolfpack 68-50 in the conference opener for both teams at the beginning of January. In that meeting, State shot 27-52 from the field, good for 52 percent, and 16-27 (59 percent) in the second half.

Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner led the way for the Wolfpack then, scoring 19 and 16 points, respectively. Barber contributed just nine.

When asked for the cause of such a massively improved performance this time around, the sophomore mentioned his mindset.

“I was more aggressive. My teammates and coaches were telling me to be me,” Barber said.  “So today I just came out with a high sense of urgency and confidence that I’m gonna put the team on my back, and that’s what I did.“

The rest of his team followed his lead, collectively shooting 12-27 (44.4 percent) and 5-10 from 3-point range (50 percent) in the first half.  

That aggressiveness from Barber, and the rest of his teammates, was unrelenting until the end, as he scored six points in the final two minutes of play.  

“We had times where we had the advantage to score the ball, so we took it,” he said. “So I think in our eyes we weren’t going to turn down the opportunity to be aggressive the whole game.”

Pitt never led and tied the game only twice, both instances coming in the first half when neither team had yet scored double digits.