DeCock

Wolfpack could have folded but they didn't

Staff WriterDecember 30, 2011 

This was the one, the game that would have tripped up N.C. State in the past. Against a talented if low-profile opponent, there were more than enough excuses available for the Wolfpack to underachieve Thursday night.

So often in the past, the Wolfpack was all too ready to use them. This year, those excuses are going unused. Campbell gave N.C. State everything the Wolfpack could handle Thursday and the Wolfpack never flinched. If ever there was a moment to fully absorb just how much things have changed under Mark Gottfried, this was it.

And the Wolfpack did it in the building that represents everything that was once right about N.C. State basketball, Reynolds Coliseum packed to the rafters, its atriums hazy with smoke, tensions high on the court.

The score was tied as late as the 12-minute mark of the second half as the Camels asked many questions of the Wolfpack. This night, N.C. State had all the answers in an 87-81 win.

"We can obviously get better," Gottfried said afterward. "We're not a great team right now. We know that. But we're doing some things well right now that we can build on."

In the Sidney Lowe era in particular, this was the kind of game that often proved surprisingly troublesome for the Wolfpack. The early season losses to New Orleans and East Carolina in 2007-08 still rankle N.C. State fans, and for good reason, and there were many close calls.

Thursday's game fit that profile. Campbell had lost four straight, but the Camels opened the season 8-1 and are 2-0 in the Big South heading into the heart of the conference schedule. With some talented guards and a high-scoring, athletic big man, Campbell is the kind of team that can catch a power-conference school napping. Just ask Iowa.

That's a frightening set of conditions for a State fan with a long memory, especially going into a game held during winter break, at Reynolds instead of the RBC Center, with the Wolfpack off for a week. (For State fans with even longer memories, they'll remember Campbell's upset on this very floor in 1993.)

It took only 10 minutes for players from both teams to be told to quit the trash-talking, and three technical fouls were handed out in the second half -- the kind of fiery atmosphere Reynolds was known for in its glory days.

If there's one thing Gottfried has brought to the Wolfpack this season, it's the kind of killer instinct that has so often been missing in recent years. It may have the ring of false bluster at the moment, given the lack of success most players on the roster have experienced during their careers, but it's working.

"With the new staff and all the changes, we're just now figuring out how we need to play," Gottfried said. "It takes a little while, and we've done it through a really tough schedule."

There have been some late-game stumbles, against Stanford most notably, but the comeback against Texas and the buzzer-beating win at St. Bonaventure didn't feel like games N.C. State would have won in years past. This one might be on that list as well, because it wouldn't have taken much for N.C. State to lose this one.

"We just did a good job of coming back, not putting our heads down even though they made some runs," N.C. State guard Scott Wood said.

Pushed for so long, on so many fronts Thursday night, there were more than enough opportunities for the Wolfpack to stumble. The Wolfpack never did.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947

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