N.C. State wasn’t supposed to be tested by McNeese State on Thursday night and wasn’t. Dennis Smith Jr. made sure of that.
Smith scored 23 points to lead the Wolfpack to its fifth straight win, 89-57, over the Cowboys from the Southland Conference, and third in a row by at least 20 points.
The level of competition has gone down recently for the Wolfpack (10-2), but coach Mark Gottfried’s team has cranked up its scoring and handled lower Division I teams like McNeese (3-8) with ease.
Smith made four 3-pointers and threw in six assists and three steals for good measure. N.C. State has won its past three games by 33 (Appalachian State), 21 (Fairfield) and 32 points.
“It started with App State, that was the first nonconference (game) we won how we were supposed to win – just dominate start to finish,” Smith said. “We’ve been carrying that over.”
Smith had eight of N.C. State’s first 10 points, in the first 3 minutes of the game, and had 16 points in the first half. Smith’s four-point play at 6:51 in the first half pushed the Wolfpack’s margin to 40-17.
The Cowboys, who have only one win this season over a Division I team, trailed by 21 at the half and by as many as 38 in the second half. Senior guard Jamaya Burr (14 points) made both of his 3-point shots but the Cowboys went 6 of 26 (23.1 percent) from the 3-point line.
Besides the final score, and the momentum with ACC play around the corner, a positive sign for N.C. State was the play of sophomore wing Maverick Rowan. In his fourth game back from a concussion suffered in the season-opener, Rowan scored 15 points on Thursday.
“He did shoot it well tonight, he’s getting better there, and overall I thought he did a nice job,” Gottfried said.
Rowan is starting to get his stamina back and his shooting stroke. He made 6 of 11 field goals, including three 3-pointers in the first half.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Rowan said. “I’ve put a lot of hours in the gym and I just feel good about it.”
Smith said Rowan, who set a school freshman record with 81 3-pointers last season, brings an obvious value to the lineup.
“He spaces the floor and gets everybody else open,” Smith said. “He helps everybody out.”
Smith and Rowan did enough work in the first 30 minutes of the game; the duo got to watch Markell Johnson and Shaun Kirk entertain the PNC Arena crowd for the last 10 minutes of the game.
Johnson found Kirk twice for crowd-pleasing alley-oop dunks. Given the number of fouls called (21 on N.C. State) by officials Bill Covington, Ray Styons and Bert Smith, Kirk’s dunking ability was a welcomed distraction.
Freshman forward Omer Yurtseven is still trying to adjust to the officiating differences in the college game compared with the Turkish league he played in the previous three years.
Yurtseven, in his third game, was slowed by foul trouble but had seven rebounds in 19 minutes.
The real bonus for N.C. State’s bench was when junior guard Chris Corchiani Jr. scored four points in the final minute. Corchiani’s layup beat the final buzzer and he was swarmed by his teammates on the court.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio