Resurgent Abu adds to Wolfpacks growing arsenal

Abu scored 14 points and added nine rebounds in his best performance of the last three weeks to help lead State to a 99-78 rout of Fairfield at PNC Arena

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Seen in a double exposure created in camera

RALEIGH — The NC State basketball team keeps adding new pieces to its puzzle as the start of ACC play draws nearer. Its latest new weapon, however, isn’t new at all. Abdul-Malik Abu has been something of a forgotten man in the Wolfpack lineup recently thanks to the play of freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and transfer sharpshooter Terry Henderson, combined with the long-awaited introduction into the rotation of five-star big man Omer Yurtseven. But Sunday, the junior forward provided a reminder of how good he can be, too. Abu scored 14 points and added nine rebounds in his best performance of the last three weeks to help lead State to a 99-78 rout of Fairfield at PNC Arena. “Malik hasn’t played well and today he was better,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “He did a nice job, one rebound away from a double-double. He’s concentrated around the rim, got the ball in the basket, made the mid-range jump shot. He’s got to get a little confidence, got to get him back to playing little better.” Abu, State’s top returning scorer and rebounder from last season, began to show some signs of life against Appalachian State on Wednesday after suffering through a stretch in which he failed to reach double figures in three of four games. He built on that momentum Sunday. Instead of settling for midrange jumpers, as he has of late, Abu used his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame to get inside Fairfield’s zone defense, establish himself on the low post and score when his team needed it most. He was especially effective early in the second half, when after the Stags had erased all but four points of what had once been a 17-point Wolfpack lead, he scored twice from close range to get his team headed back in the right direction again. “We really weren’t happy with the end of the first half, because we felt like we had our foot on the pedal and they cut it down,” Abu said. “We’ve been preaching in the locker room that it’s going to get real really fast before we know it and we can never let up. So we went out there and tried to tell the young guys that this is very serious, we just have to play hard.” While Abu and fellow veteran Henderson led by example, the latter riddling Fairfield’s zone with six three-pointers on his way to a game-high 25 points, those youngsters quickly followed. Freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. added five treys of his own while contributing 17 points, nine assists and five rebounds while first-year transfer Torin Dorn had 12 points. Yurtseven, playing in only his second game since gaining his eligibility following a nine-game NCAA suspension, had an encouraging effort by going 6 of 11 from the floor for 12 points, with six rebounds, three assists and a block in 28 minutes. His most meaningful contribution, however, may not have shown up on the score sheet. Rather, it was the influence his presence on the floor may have had on Abu’s resurgent performance. “We felt like we could go right inside, get the ball around the basket, jump right over them and score,” Gottfried said. “Malik new that. We talked about that the last couple of days. “I do think that with Omer in there, he’s such a good passer from the high post, it kind of opens everything up. He just seems to move it real well from there. That’s going to be a big plus for our team. I think everybody, like Malik today, they’re all going to benefit from the way he passes the ball.” As much of an influence as Yurtseven’s passing had on Abu, along with the familiarity he and his teammates are starting to gain with their new roles and rotation, his work in practice also played a role in his strong effort Sunday. “I go through the ups-and-downs,” Abu said. “I’ve been trying to stay in the gym and wait for my moments.” Teammate Henderson said it was only a matter of time before one of those moments arrived. “He can do that,” Henderson said. “He just needs to slow down, take his time and let the game come to him. He’s been big for us, so it’s no surprise for me. We already knew what he could do.”