RALEIGH — N.C. State never trailed N.C. Central, yet it took a harder-than-expected effort to defeat the visitors from Durham.
Fighting off the Eagles over the final five minutes of Sundays game, the Wolfpack escaped Reynolds Coliseum with a 65-60 victory secured at the free throw line.
Shaking their heads, State players lamented another missed opportunity to play better down the stretch. They spoke about cautious play that may have emboldened their opponents who grew dogged in the closing minutes.
We definitely dont feel good about the type of win, but we do feel good that we won the ballgame, State junior forward Richard Howell said. We have a couple of errors we need to fix to finish the game out later in stretches. But thats something we can fix pretty easily.
Sundays game, which snapped a two-game losing streak for State (6-3), came after a six-day break for the first week of final examines. The Pack has four more days of exams before turning its attention to No. 1 Syracuse on Dec. 17.
State first-year coach Mark Gottfried never mentioned exams, though said his team could have performed better. He said players became cautious to shoot as N.C. Central extended its zone. He said they were ineffective at finding post options against that zone.
We certainly take some things away from today, Gottfried said. How can we get the ball in closer to the basket? How can we create more opportunities for [junior guard] Scott Wood? I think it was a good thing for us to face that zone tonight, and know that weve got to face it again in our next game.
Seeing its 14-point second-half lead evaporate to five, the Pack needed its shooting touch against N.C. Central. The Eagles (5-5) were keenly aware of how a win could bolster their reputation, possibly making them the first Central team to beat State in three previous tries.
N.C. Central junior guard Ray Willis drained a 3-pointer to cut State's lead to 56-51 with five minutes, 36 seconds remaining. Moments later, Wood responded with his own 3-pointer from the left arc.
The Eagles would cut State's lead to three points 59-56 with 1:45 left after Willis, using his 6-foot-6 frame, collected a steal and converted a layup.
From there, the Pack looked inside and earned trips to the free throw line, knocking down six of six attempts down the stretch.
You could easily say that the last couple of games we lost the game because of free throw shooting, said Wood, who was 4-for-4 from the free throw line and 5-for-9 from 3-point range. He scored 19 points in 38 minutes.
Playing in his 100th career game, State senior C.J. scored a career-high and game-high 21 points in 36 minutes.
State junior forward Richard Howell added 11 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds despite picking up four personal fouls. Fellow forward C.J. Leslie, who picked up fouls early in the first half, finished with three points and six rebounds.
N.C. Central had four players score in double figures, including Willis who scored 17 points. The Eagles, who own the nations second highest scoring average (88.6), were held scoreless for about six minutes to start the first half.
The Eagles shot 0-for-9 from the field before getting on the score board, but by that time the Pack was off and running. Their 2-3 and 3-2 match-up zone slowed State down.
We were able to make it a close ball game and I just told them lets put the pressure on them, N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton said. I thought we did a good job locating in the zone, but we left Wood open and he did what he did.