Tennessee State reprised the role of Wofford, a veteran mid-major team eager to spoil N.C. State’s return to Reynolds Coliseum, to near perfection on Saturday.
Like Wofford did two years ago, a tough, determined Tennessee State team had N.C. State down and almost out. The Tigers led by as many as eight points in the second half.
But senior forward BeeJay Anya and freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. wouldn’t let N.C. State leave the renovated Old Barn without a win. Anya’s near triple-double and Smith’s 19 points lifted the Wolfpack to a 67-55 overtime win over Tennessee State.
Anya, who had a total of eight points in the previous five games combined, scored 12 points and had 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
When the Tigers (7-2) were in control of the game and threatened to duplicated Wofford’s win here in December 2014, the last game before the on-campus arena underwent a $35 million renovation, it was Anya who held down the fort.
He rebounded, he protected the rim and he made free throws (6-of-11).
“The guy affected the game in just about every way,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
Or to put it in more plain terms, as Anya did, he wasn’t going to be “punked” by the physical Tigers, who got 16 points and nine rebounds from senior forward Wayne Martin.
“They kind of came in here and thought they could punk us,” Anya said. “I ain’t no punk.”
No, the big man is not that, even though he has played sparingly recently and his time figures to get chopped up more when freshman forward Omer Yurtseven makes his debut on Thursday against Appalachian State.
Anya, who played a total of 33 minutes in the previous four games, logged 38 minutes on Saturday. By the end of the overtime, when it was clear the Wolfpack would improve to 15-1 in its return games to its former home, the sellout crowd of 5,500 was chanting his name.
Anya appreciated the love.
“I have started off slow this season,” Anya said. “I had a little stretch there where I wasn’t playing very well. It’s good to know the fans still have my back.”
And while Anya took care of the boards and blocked shots, Smith heated up at the end of regulation and in overtime. The freshman guard scored seven of his 19 points in overtime.
His running baseline shot with 46.4 seconds left tied the score at 50. Smith then blocked a shot on Tennessee State’s next trip down the floor, and the Wolfpack came up with a jump ball.
Smith had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Martin blocked his layup attempt with 1.0 second left.
When Martin fouled out 18 seconds into overtime, the Tigers were in trouble. Anya made one of two free throws on the foul and then a steal and layup by Smith gave the Wolfpack a 53-50 lead.
The Tigers took the lead back after a runner by Tahjere McCall and a 3-pointer by Darreon Reddick to make it 55-53.
Senior guard Terry Henderson (game-high 21 points) answered Reddick’s 3 with one of his own. Henderson’s 3 actually banked in from an odd angle for the 56-55 lead at 2:55 in overtime.
“I think the Reynolds magic guided that bank shot in on the 3-ball,” Henderson said. “It was a great atmosphere. I wish we could play more games here, honestly, but it is what it is.”
Gottfried praised the crowd as well. He was equally impressed with Tennessee State.
“I have a hard time seeing anybody in that league play with that team,” Gottfried said. “That’s a good basketball team.”
Almost good enough to hand N.C. State a second straight loss at Reynolds, but the Wolfpack didn’t let history repeat itself.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio