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January 9, 2008

NC State wins last nonconference game

It isn't often North Carolina State can shoot 36.4 percent from the field, but still come away with a 25-point victory.

NC State struggled from long range against North Carolina Central's zone defense, taking any chance of an aesthetically pleasing win against the Eagles.

Brandon Costner dialed in three 3-pointers en route to a game-high 18 points to lead the Wolfpack to a 54-29 victory against NCCU in front of 15,562 at the RBC Center. The victory closed out the nonconference portion of the Wolfpack schedule.

NC State improved to 11-3 overall and carry a seven-game winning streak into the ACC opener against rival North Carolina at noon Saturday in Chapel Hill.

"We definitely have made progress offensively, but it just varies from game-to-game for some reason," said Costner, who shed his knee brace after wearing one the last two games. "In practice, we are playing well and playing together. Some games it works, some games it doesn't.

"We need to get more consistency in the ACC. I think we'll be ready for the challenge."

The lack of any continuity on offense didn't concern Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe. NC State has made a habit out of winning ugly this season, and scoring 27 points in both half's against the 1-21 Eagles is par for the course.

"They played their zone and were sticking with it and wouldn't let us throw the ball inside," Lowe said. "Our guys had to step in and make some shots, but they didn't.

"I'm not concerned [about the offense] at all when you are playing teams that are running zones or against a team that was running the clock. I'm not concerned about the amount of points scored."

Conversely, NC State didn't allow many easy baskets against punchless North Carolina Central. The Wolfpack held the Eagles to 12 of 59 from the field for 20.3 percent. NCCU mustered only 11 points in the second half.

"The thing that I do like is our defense," Lowe said. "We've been holding teams to 39 percent shooting and that is excellent. When you do that, you are OK."

Costner finished 5 of 10 from the field, including 3 of 6 from downtown. The rest of the Wolfpack was 1 for 15 from beyond the arc.

The long-range shooting has been a season-long concern, but the problem might be exacerbated the next few games with junior shooting guard Courtney Fells going down with a game-ending right ankle injury with 4:35 left in the first half. He was on crutches after the game, but did take an X-ray and it came back negative. His status for the UNC game is undetermined.

Redshirt sophomore Trevor Ferguson came in off the bench for Fells, playing 18 minutes, but could only shoot 1 for 7 from 3-point range. Reserve redshirt junior forward Simon Harris also played a season-high 24 minutes off the bench, grabbing six rebounds and scoring on an acrobatic layup.

"We were a little down and a little up, but no matter what it is, we got a 'W' and are happy with it," Harris said. "Defense is our main goal. Coach always stresses defense."

Freshman center J.J. Hickson was the only other NC State player to crack double figures, scoring 12 of his 13 points in the first half, playing nine minutes in the second half.

"We've been working on the offensive end, but we have to make more open shots," Hickson said. "We have to trust each to make more open shots. If we can hit some open shots, everything else will take care of itself."

The trust in each other will be put to the test against No. 1-ranked North Carolina.

"I feel we have enough talent and experience to come out with a win," Costner said.


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