November 15, 2007

Hickson's 'perfect night' leads Pack to victory

J.J. Hickson couldn't have scripted a better opening night.

The freshman center from Atlanta shot a record-setting 12 of 12 from the field en route to a game-high 31 points to lead the No. 21-ranked NC State men's basketball team to a 66-47 victory over William & Mary on Thursday at the RBC Center.

Hickson opened the game to cheers when he was announced in the starting lineup in place of junior Ben McCauley, and kicked off the season with the first basket of the game with a little baseline shot. He came out to a standing ovation and chants of his name when he exited the game with 56.5 seconds remaining.

In-between, he dominated the paint with a rare blend of size, power and athleticism, against the Tribe's various zone defenses.

"I scored a lot of points in the paint and that is what I came out to do," said Hickson, who added seven boards and a blocked shot. "It isn't what I expected, but I just came out here to have fun and win the game. If we win the game, it doesn't matter how many points and rebounds I get."

The 6-foot-9, 243-pound Hickson was the No. 10-ranked player in the country according to Rivals.com. He said he's been watching some of his freshman peers across the country get off to tremendous starts, and now he has joined them.

"It feels good and it boosted up my confidence," Hickson said. "I'm just going to take this game and learn from my mistakes. I didn't play a perfect game. I didn't get some loose rebounds and I need to find a man while boxing out."

Hickson's 12 straight field goals set a new school record, breaking Josh Powell's 10 of 10 mark in 2002, and he also had the most points in a freshman debut, edging out Ishua Benjamin and Ivan Wagner, who both scored 29 in 1994 and 1995 respectively.

"[Hickson] plays hard every second he's on the floor and you can see the results," NC State coach Sidney Lowe said. "He's very skilled and he wants it. There were a couple plays when his presence was felt and he helped us score."

Hickson was equally effective in both half's, but took over the game in the second half scoring 17. Hickson responded with nine points to close out the game, after William & Mary cut the lead to 49-44 with 8:41 remaining, thanks to a 13-1 run.

After Courtney Fells scored the last basket of the game, the NC State students serenaded Hickson for his memorable debut.

"It felt real good knowing the fans aren't just in love with me, but with the whole team," Hickson said.

Brandon Costner added 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Fells had 10 points. NC State struggled from 3-point land, shooting 5 of 24 for 20.8 percent. The Wolfpack learned that they can still win even when their outside jumpers aren't falling.

"We got a team that can go against anybody," NC State senior small forward Gavin Grant said. "Anybody can lead us in scoring. J.J. had half our points tonight and he is just a freshman. We haven't seen Brandon, Ben, Courtney or me, so you haven't seen any of us in the offense yet. Wolfpack fans will be happy."


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