NC State handles Hofstra in NIT opener

It’s not the NCAA tournament but it’s still Reynolds Coliseum.

And that’s enough for N.C. State fans, who booed early and roared late in the Wolfpack’s 84-78 win over Hofstra on Tuesday in the first round of the NIT.

Disappointed after being left out of the NCAA tournament, the Wolfpack (23-11) started slightly sluggish but found its way.

“When you don’t make (the NCAA tournament), that’s a tough thing,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “These guys, I thought they came out and they responded.”

A technical foul on N.C. State guard Markell Johnson, for slapping the backboard after a dunk, got the blood pressure going of the sold-out crowd of 5,500 at 8:06 of the first half. The boos turned to roaring approval in the second half as N.C. State took control of the game.

Johnson led the Wolfpack with 26 points while senior Torin Dorn added 19 points and nine rebounds. N.C. State has won 19 of 20 games, including both NIT games, at Reynolds since it moved its home games to PNC Arena in 1999.

“Playing in Reynolds is so much fun because it’s so loud,” forward Wyatt Walker said. “The fans were great. I think they know we are a good team and they believe in us. They’re probably just as disappointed as we are.”

Senior guard Justin Wright-Foreman led Hofstra (27-8) with 29 points. Wright-Foreman, second in the NCAA in scoring (27.0 points per game), had 17 points in the first half to stake the Pride to a 42-39 lead.

The Pride won the Colonial Athletic Association during the regular season but struggled after a 9-0 start in league play. Northeastern beat them in the CAA final to take the league’s lone NCAA bid.

Wright-Foreman was the main reason the Pride had the success it did. Defense is not their calling card. There were wide swatches of the paint open in the middle of their 2-3 zone but N.C. State couldn’t quite take advantage early.

Dorn had 11 points in the first half while C.J. Bryce, who was an All-CAA player at UNC-Wilmington before he transferred to N.C. State, had nine and finished with 18.

Feeding off the energy of Reynolds, N.C. State got in gear in the second half and started to take advantage of extra room in Hofstra’s porous zone.

A layup by Dorn at 12:35 gave N.C. State a 57-53 lead and would have put in charge in the old Reynolds noise meter. A putback by Devon Daniels on the next possession cranked up the volume just a bit more.

But Wright-Foreman had one last counter-punch in him. His 3 with 2:21 left cut N.C. State’s lead to 78-76. Jalen Ray had a chance to give the Pride a late lead but his 3-pointer bounced out with 1:46 left. Braxton Beverly missed a 3 on N.C. State’s next possession but D.J. Funderburk got the offensive rebound.

Johnson was able to get to the rim for an 80-76 lead at 1:06 and then hit another running layup with 19.4 seconds left to close it out.

N.C. State will get another chance to play at Reynolds. The Wolfpack will face the winner of Harvard-Georgetown on Sunday at 7:30 p.m in the second round of the NIT.

“Our focus has completely changed,” Keatts said. “We’re playing for a championship and that’s what we want.”

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