For a young NC State team, they'll take a win any way they can get it. Playing for the first time all season in the RBC Center and without senior guard Farnold Degand (academic reasons), the Pack faced a veteran ball club in Georgia State, and while they stumbled out of the gate, they came on late to notch the victory 69-53.
The Pack went to work early, feeding Tracy Smith on the block for a few easy buckets, but it wasn't long before Georgia State began sagging men in the paint and forcing the Wolfpack to beat them from the perimeter. Throughout the first half, the Pack struggled to do so, could not find a rhythm and were unable to establish themselves on the break. It wasn't until their lone senior stepped up and took control that the Wolfpack finally got it going. Horner went onto a run of his own, scoring 7 straight points and helping the Pack stay afloat, and go into halftime with a slight lead 32-29.
The Wolfpack came out of the tunnel in the second half knowing that they had to put the game away early and not allow the veteran Panthers to hang around, however, an early 3rd foul on Tracy Smith (18 points, 11 boards) sent him to the bench.
"He's thinking about getting pressure on the ball and getting his hands on it. He's got to be smarter about the personnel he's matched up against. We can't have him getting unnecessary fouls" said Coach Sidney Lowe
Without their star center, Sidney Lowe was forced to turn to his guards, something he's had to do in seasons past, but to no avail. Tonight, however, the guards answered the call. Javi Gonzalez hustled, scrapped and fought his way to 8 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds, while sophomore Julius Mays dropped 16, 14 of which came in the second half. In the end, though, it was the defense keying the Pack's late game run, which closed the door on the Panthers for good.
"We made a nice run and came at them defensively. We went after it and got some rebound and steals, made some stops and that really allowed us to open up our game. Our offense took off from there." said Coach Sidney Lowe
The defensive pressure, and a few long rebounds, helped the Pack get out on the break, extend the lead and cruise to a 16 point victory.
The Player Rundown
Overall the Pack played decent, but there is certainly a whole lot of room for improvement. Tracy Smith did what Tracy Smith is going to do, he punished the opponent in the paint any time he was isolated one on one. He drew fouls, got to the line and played very physical.
The big story of this game was the guard play. 12 assists to only 9 turnovers. That stat alone will show you why NC state was able to hold off the Panthers down the stretch. Without Farnold Degand, and with Smith in early foul trouble, it was up to Javi Gonzalez, Julius Mays and CJ Williams to run the show. While Williams was unable to get things going tonight, Javi Gonzalez showed maturity and poise, as he dropped 8 points, grabbed 8 boards and dished out 8 assists, all while only committing two turnovers. A very impressive performance that got the attention of a guy who might know a thing or two about the position, his coach, Sidney Lowe.
"Javi was great. Two turnovers, eight rebounds. I thought he played great. I think he realized that we didn't have Farnold and that he was going to have to play both positions and play both positions well. He was outstanding. He went in there and got a couple key rebounds for us. He defended the ball, passed the ball, and overall played a great game. "
Mays also was great down the stretch. For a good deal of the first half the Wolfpack basically ran their sets and passed it around the perimeter, looking to drop it to the post. There was very little attempt at creating by the guards until Mays began pushing the envelope and making things happen on offense. His 14 second half points were huge in the Pack getting this victory.
Another player that really stood out was Josh Davis. Although Davis doesn't have much to show on the stat sheet, aside from 3 rebounds, he was so active on both ends of the floor. He crashed the boards, dove for loose balls, and moved with a purpose on the offensive end. In fact, all of the freshman really deserved to be recognized for their effort. Jordan Vandenberg, Scott Wood and DeShawn Painter all played their hearts out, but the bright lights and the excitement of the home opener seemed to shake them a bit. Wood finished with 8 points, but was an uncharacteristic 1-6 from three. Vandenberg slotted in for Smith nicely and really played some important minutes for the Pack. His length alone is game changing, add in the fact that he's aggressive and you have yourself a piece that should play an important role on this team as the season moves forward.
KEY STATS OF THE GAME
-12 assists and only 9 turnoevers
-NC State shot only 18% from beyond the arc