Monday, February 9, 2009

Gonzalez takes reins for N.C. State

N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe praised sophomore Javi Gonzalez on Sunday after he made his first start at point guard since Dec. 17.

“I thought Javi played well,” Lowe said after Gonzalez (left, shown in the Jan. 31 game against Duke) scored nine points with six assists in a 91-87 overtime loss at Virginia Tech.

Lowe liked the way Gonzalez pushed the ball up the floor and looked for his teammates, and it showed in the way Lowe dealt out playing time. Gonzalez played 36 minutes, a season high for an N.C. State point guard.

The coach’s assessment might have been influenced by the difficulties the Wolfpack has had at the position this season. Any time Gonzalez, junior Farnold Degand or freshman Julius Mays has a few bright moments, they spark optimism that the team’s problems at the position might be ending.

But the bright moments usually are accompanied by mistakes. Gonzalez committed five turnovers, including two on consecutive possessions as Virginia Tech seized the momentum midway through the second half.

Mays also had two turnovers in 30 seconds during that stretch. And Degand was benched for violating team academic policy, according to Lowe.

“He didn’t deserve to play today,” Lowe said.

Lowe has said Gonzalez has been N.C. State’s best point guard in practice recently, so it appears he will get first crack at the job as the Wolfpack prepares to play host to Wake Forest on Wednesday.

The Deacons have an ACC player of the year candidate in their sophomore point guard, Jeff Teague. Meanwhile, Gonzalez is just trying to stop the bleeding at N.C. State’s most frustrating position.

Whether he succeeds or not, his persistence has to be admired. After cutting his left elbow on East Carolina point guard Brock Young’s teeth on Dec. 17, Gonzalez totaled 33 minutes in five games. He didn’t play in eight games – three because of injury and five because Lowe didn’t put him out there.

Over the 33 minutes he did play, he turned it over 11 times, handed out eight assists and scored seven points. But he always has said he’s a fighter, dating back to his days as a child in Puerto Rico when he had to be strong and stand up for himself.

That fighter’s mentality has him in position to play a lot for the Wolfpack down the stretch.

“It’s been tough, getting back from an elbow injury,” Gonzalez said. “I just tried to stay ready, keep playing hard in practice, pushing the starters and get back into it.” – Ken Tysiac