|HOWELL (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)|
“None of us had ever played in a game like this,” Howell said. “This gave us a big confidence boost.”
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Howell got the Wolfpack (23-12) off on the right foot with 15 first-half points, carrying them into a showdown with No. 3 seed Georgetown on Sunday at Nationwide Arena.
“In today’s game, we felt we could have success around the basket,” first-year coach Mark Gottfried said. “We made the decision to go toward Richard, and he lit up like a Christmas tree.”
It was easy to see that the Wolfpack had a size advantage on the surprising Aztecs (26-8), who were back in the tournament despite losing four starters from last year’s squad that lost to eventual champion Connecticut.in the regional semifinals.
Lorenzo Brown added 17 points, C.J. Leslie 15 and Scott Wood 10 for the Wolfpack, who are now 12-5 in their first NCAA games. North Carolina State has won at least a game in seven of its last eight trips.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Wolfpack under Gottfried. They’ve improved by eight wins over last season, which ended with the firing of coach Sidney Lowe, and they made it to the NCAA tournament despite losing four in a row in February.
Jamaal Franklin had 23 points and Chase Tapley 19 for the Aztecs (26-8), regular-season champs of the Mountain West.